This psychological thriller with a creepy, well executed premise is anchored by a solid (maybe even great) lead performance from Brian Landis Folkins. If that’s not enough there’s also a lived-in early ’90s setting you can almost feel, a small supporting cast free of weak links or pointless antagonists, and the occasional laugh–though make no mistake, it can be perturbing at times. 

It’s 1990 and David (Brian Landis Folkins), age 40 and unemployed, has lost count how many VHS tapes of fellow lonely singles from Video Rendezvous he’s sat though looking for love. David lives off state aid in the basement of his dementia-ridden mother (Kathleen Brady), which isn’t helping his dating life, but she needs the 24 hour care he provides so he doesn’t know what else to do. David finds himself rummaging through the Video Rendezvous bargain bin one day and stumbles across a different kind of tape, something called “Rent-A-Pal.” David and his VHS buddy, Andy (Wil Wheaton), share stories, play Go-Fish, get to know each other, and with every passing day Andy seems more than some guy on a videotape. They’re best friends and David has to learn that best friends do things for each other…

Rent-A-Pal depends entirely on Brian Landis Folkins’ portrayal of David to land as someone we should care about, in whatever respect, for the duration of the film since this is without a doubt The David Show–he’s basically in every scene. As said earlier, Folkins manages that landing successfully. David’s a lonely guy who has no friends, no job, and literally nothing to do every day aside from bathe, feed, change, and otherwise care for an elderly mother who only occasionally remembers his name. Folkins still plays David as someone who even if he’s generally unhappy in life will find joy in his elderly mother being happy for a moment while watching a favorite film, despite her not knowing who he is at the time. 

Throughout the film Folkins always manages to make David seem like a real guy, first dealing with the typical unpleasantness of his life before finding some desired joys and unexpected lows. I appreciated that David wasn’t a wholly miserable, unpleasant person and still had the capacity for positive feelings when presented with situations where those were possible. At one point in a parking lot David has what sure appears to be an extremely cathartic moment that Folkins’ makes the most of. Now, things obviously go less-than-stellar for David (the fact we’re on a website called Horrorbuzz is certainly a giveaway) but I don’t feel Folkins’ ever goes outside of what human behavior might be.

The small supporting cast do well with characters that all have shades of grey, which is a nice touch. From David’s mother down to a Video Rendezvous receptionist it felt like everyone was more than one thing (sometimes a tall order). Well, Wil Wheaton’s Andy doesn’t have much depth but he doesn’t need to–he’s friendly with a side of menace and has a bit of a mouth, now and again. Wheaton appears to be having fun and despite the obvious barrier between he and David they manage to develop a certain chemistry together. 

I haven’t gotten deep into the “psychological thriller” part yet and that’s largely because movies like this (plus most others, really) are better served by experiencing the thrills as they come–if you know X is coming then when it does you aren’t as affected. Rent-A-Pal isn’t a horror movie, exactly, even if much of David’s life is horrific compared to yours or mine, but there are absolutely situations and occurrences that got a sustained knot going in my stomach. Towards the tail end there are a couple bits I’d change, but they aren’t deal breakers in an otherwise effective psychological thriller.

Would I recommend this? Yeah, definitely. If you’d like a psychological thriller character piece with effective performances that wears a ’90s setting on its sleeve I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. There are a couple good laughs to be had in addition to the stomach knots I mentioned earlier as well and a tag after the credits if you’re a completist.

 

8 out of 10 Video Rendezvous Tapes

 

Rent-A-Pal – Available in select theaters, drive-ins, on demand and digital September 11th.
Rating:UR
Runtime:1 Hr. 48 Mins.
Directed By:
Jon Stevenson
Written By:
Jon Stevenson