Friday, October 22, 2021

Rent-A-Pal (2020)

There are three categories of horror: Jason movies, Freddy movies, and Wil Wheaton movies. Jon Stevenson’s feature directorial debut falls into the “psychological thriller” category of horror movies, casting Star Trek’s most-hated child star opposite a very sad character who may be unstable. It’s less about media and more about interpersonal relationships, which is odd considering the premise of an “interactive” self-help VHS tape.


The film stars B-lister Brian Landis Folkins, who looks like Jesse Plemons (Fargo, I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and gives a similar performance. He lives in his demented old mother’s basement and deals with all the shit that entails. Such a pessimistic start may be offputting to the casual drama viewer, but this is a horror movie.

Not-Jesse-Plemons is a pathetic sack of shit, but he’s apparently kindhearted and tries to get that across in his dating service VHS tapes. That’s right, this is also a period piece. He eventually finds a possible match, but only after making friends with a sort of self-help tape called Rent-A-Pal, and the pal is Wil Wheaton (the unlikable kid from Star Trek: The Next Generation).

There is a moment where the characters start making out (not Brian and Wil, thankfully) and the TV remote comes precariously close to getting pressed. My only thought was “oh no, Wil Wheaton’s going to appear”. If you’ve seen as much Star Trek as I have, that’s the last face you want to see. To be fair, Wil didn’t ruin TNG, the writers did at the behest of the CBS upper brass. Like every baby-faced family-friendly child actor, he grew up into the perfect horror movie villain.

Speaking of writing, aside from some pacing issues in the third act, the film does a lot of interesting things. The most noticeable is that Wheaton’s words take on different meanings in different contexts. He also seems to own a smartphone despite the film taking place in the 1990s. I doubt the old hack had anything better to do, so these aspects were likely not consequences of budget but rather integral parts of the original script. When you write a budget script about a guy sitting in a chair, you have to make the guy sitting in the chair as interesting as possible, which this movie did.

Without spoiling any more, I give this one a solid recommendation. As much as I like to see a machete-wielding ape chopping people up, a smarter movie that fucks with your head is an interesting diversion.