You’ll Find a Friend in the Dark and Depressing Psychodrama Rent-A-Pal (2020)
First Wide Release: September 11, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Jon Stevenson
Writer: Jon Stevenson
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Starring: Will Wheaton, Brian Landis Folkins, Amy Rutledge
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
After waiting six months to hear back from the video dating service he uses, a 40-year-old man, David (Brian Landis Folkins) stumbles across something that could change his life. Dejected from taking care of his elderly mother and dissatisfied with the state of stasis his life has halted to, David is looking for anything, or anyone, to pull him out of his depression. Then, Andy (Will Wheaton) comes along. Andy becomes David’s best friend. When he’s not spending time with his mother or going on a date with the surprisingly kind and affable, Lisa (Amy Rutledge), David is connecting with Andy on a level deeper than he ever has with anyone before. The thing is, Andy is a character from a video tape he purchased at the dating service. Soon, David’s life starts cascading down a rabbit hole of obsession and madness.
Rent-A-Pal is a wonderfully weird and deeply disturbing tale of how loneliness can be so painful that it changes a person entirely.
David’s life is hard. It’s hard not to feel for a guy who dutifully takes care of his mother at the expense of his own professional and personal goals. He also does it with a level of care and empathy to ensure his mother is not reminded of the painful loss of her husband, whom she still believes is alive. In the beginning, he doesn’t even really complain, even though his house looks as sad as it might feel to live there and that he spends all his free time in his basement bedroom. He still values his mother enough to share how special she is on his first real date in half a year. This changes, however, once David starts spending all his time with his new pal.
At first, Andy seems like a blessing. Sure, the awkwardness of talking to a television is hard to shake the first few times, but David begins watching so often that he really feels that he makes a connection. This connection gives him the confidence to eventually go on a date with Lisa, who initially did not match with him through the dating service. Andy seems supportive until he suspects David isn’t spending enough time with him. This relationship begins to feel suffocating, as Stevenson draws the viewer in even tighter with plenty of close-up shots to make you feel as confined as David does.
At its core, Rent-A-Pal is a menacing psychodrama that shows what prolonged loneliness and dependence on technology can do to a person’s mind. It’s easy to get attached to David because he is kind, both in words and actions to others, even when he is downtrodden. The further involved he gets with Andy, the less true this becomes. David is slowly consumed with this new piece of tech that slowly envelopes his life because it mimics social interaction he so desperately craves and has been without for so long. It’s easy to feel empathy during a real-life, self-imposed quarantine. Even without the isolation factor, it’s easy to draw comparisons to technological dependence many of us display in terms of our social and romantic relationships.
This experience is documented through clever insertions of repeated phrases from the tape, cut across the film in well-placed moments of David’s descent. After slowly exhibiting the signs of breaking, the culmination of Andy’s influence over David manifests into a deadly finale. It’s heartbreaking. I found myself on the edge of my seat and rooting for David to fight against the influence. It wouldn’t have been so intense if not for Folkins’s laser-focused performance and Will Wheaton’s delightfully sinister and omnipotent presence within the film.
It won’t be for everyone, but Rent-A-Pal is a dark character study that is worth the captivating journey. Those who enjoy a more subtle approach to horror and don’t mind a more restrained setting and oddball premise, will enjoy Rent-A-Pal’s interesting approach to isolation and depression. A blend of atypical horror and drama steeped firmly in a grungy 90s aesthetic, Rent-A-Pal is exactly the friend you need to weather through lockdown.
Overall Score? 7/10