RENT-A-PAL is a new straight to streaming movie that most of you haven’t heard of and that most of you will probably never watch. This is a movie whose log line premise summary on IMDB I just need to get out of the way in order to explain my feelings on it in general: “Set in 1990, a lonely bachelor named David (Brian Landis Folkins) searches for an escape from the day-to-day drudgery of caring for his aging mother (Kathleen Brady). While seeking a partner through a video dating service, he discovers a strange VHS tape called Rent-A-Pal. Hosted by the charming and charismatic Andy (Wil Wheaton), the tape offers him much-needed company, compassion, and friendship. But, Andy’s friendship comes at a cost, and David desperately struggles to afford the price of admission.” It’s a neat premise, which unfortunately itself ends up coming at a cost with a 3rd act so predictable and by the book, it weakens the very strong first two thirds of the movie. Plus, there seemed to be some set ups that didn’t have any pay offs, I’ll list an example later in the review. The only recognizable face in this for you is going to be Wil Wheaton, who you might know from Star Trek The Next Generation or playing himself many times on The Big Bang Theory. He is the main reason I’m recommending this slightly as a one time watch. His performance is completely reliant on how he sales his VHS ‘pal’ character and he pulls off the subtle creepy vibe magnificently. Brian Landis Folkins, who plays David, also does a great job, but unfortunately the cliched actions of his character almost ruin the film at the end. It was just so unpredictable until those final moments, and if you watch this, you’ll know the exact moment it went off the rails for me.
The real question the movie asks of its viewer is: “is this VHS tape somehow supernatural and really talking to David, or are the awkward parts of the video all in David’s head as he is slowly losing his mind?” Again, I liked the subtlety of how that answer is eventually revealed, but in some instances, it didn’t go as far as I would’ve liked it to. Without giving away any spoilers, and as an example of a set up that this movie didn’t pay off, when David first starts watching the tape, Wil Wheaton’s Andy character keeps getting interrupted by a ringing phone next to the seat that he’s in, a seat he doesn’t really get up from all that much in the entire video. He picks up the phone two to three times and then puts it back down and apologizes to the viewer for the interruptions. Yeah, that never comes back up. No explanation, even when the movie answers the real question it asks. Unless I missed something. There were several unpredictable ways I thought of, other paths the movie could’ve taken with different endings, that I felt would’ve left its target audience feel that everything that came before was earned, more so than the predictable horror/slasher moments that we do end up getting. Before you argue with me, I do realize that this isn’t my movie. I didn’t not write, film, or act in it, so I realize this is newcomer writer/director Jon Stevenson’s vision. And he has a solid vision to be sure, I’m just telling you that I was a little let down by events that transpired in the last 15-20 minutes of the movie. Just me though. You might think it’s the best thing since sliced bread so don’t go solely off my review of whether you want to check this out or not, as some critics have called it “one of the best of the year.” I just wanted different and more. Everyone has different takes on things and I can see why some people really, really, really like this movie. The film is well shot and well acted, its creepy vibe and tone is almost pitch perfect, and I do recommend this as a one time view, but I would not, could not, rent this again, knowing that my ‘pal’ would ultimately disappoint me again in the climax.