"Rent-a-Pal" is the kind of film that really has stayed in my mind since my initial viewing.
That's because writer/director Jon Stevenson has crafted an effective and creepy psychological horror - a film that understands how to blur the lines of reality and create a tone that leaves the audience anxious to see what will happen next.
"Rent-a-Pal" takes place in the early 90's with David (Brian Landis Folkins) a lonely bachelor who is still living at home so he can care for his mother Lucille (Kathleen Brady) who is suffering from dementia.
David desperately wants to find a partner, so he goes to a video dating service to find the right companion. While at the dating service he discovers a strange VHS tape called "Rent-a-Pal." This tape is an interactive experience in which the viewer has a chance to become virtual friends with a charming young man named Andy (Wil Wheaton).
David is instantly drawn to the tape, with the obsession building to a disturbing crescendo.
Stevenson has essentially created a film that plays off people's fears of dying alone. We sense David's isolation from the early moments, an awkward guy who even when he does meet the perfect match - a young girl named Lisa (Amy Rutledge) who makes a living as a caretaker - he is unable to truly commit to the relationship.
Folkins is fantastic in the lead. He manages to be sympathetic to a point, but when things start to dial up his shift is believable and pretty scary.
Wheaton is a lot of fun too in a role that is basically on a TV screen, but offers so much more. With his big cheesy smile and almost comical over the top "reactions" to the view Wheaton gives a performance that is so layered that I appreciate his performance more upon reflection than in the moment.
"Rent-a-Pal" is a bit of a slow burn, with Stevenson's screenplay building to an explosive final act. Fortunately, even as the fireworks start to fly the creepy unease that has built throughout remains. It all adds up to a film that understands that loneliness can be scary - in more ways than one.