M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! I have also compiled a list of horror films that worth noting to tack on to my Best of Countdown. Some of these films just barely missed the main Best of list and some are just films released through the year I thought stood out in one way or another. Do not forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. And please chime in down in the comments and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or you can counter with your own darn list! Enjoy this Best of Horror Extra!
Released on September 11, 2020. Available on digital download and On Demand from IFC Midnight!
Directed by Jon Stevenson
Written by Jon Stevenson
Starring Brian Landis Folkins, Wil Wheaton, Amy Rutledge, Kathleen Brady, Adrian Egolf, Josh Staab
RENT-A-PAL is one of those movies that’s going to leave you feeling changed. It’s one of those films that transports you into the middle of an uncomfortable story with characters that feel all too real and make you feel sad that there are actually people like this in the world. Reminiscent of the lovable losers of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and set in the very specific and awkward year of 1990, RENT-A-PAL feels like the dark flip side to that coin where everything work out horribly in the end.
David (Brian Landis Folkins) is sad and lonely. He lives in his mother’s basement, not because he wants to (though he does), but because he has to take care of her as she is ailing with dementia. This means that he doesn’t get out much. Still, David tries to connect with others by using a dating service and making video interviews in hopes to find his match. After a particularly awkward taping of a new interview for the dating service, David notices an obscure video entitled RENT-A-PAL and decides on a whim to pick it up. When he gets home and watches it, he meets Andy (Wil Wheaton) who speaks to him through the video screen and takes part in mock conversations with the viewer. Andy is understanding, likable, and everything David is looking for in a companion, but when the dating agency sets up a date with a perfect and real live girl named Lisa (Amy Rutledge), it seems Andy doesn’t like being left behind, forcing David to choose between a new life in the real world or the one he has with Andy.
RENT-A-PAL is a small and quirky film. Like David himself, the film doesn’t go for big and bawdy laughs. It’s funny and charming at times, but never so much that I would call it a comedy. The film also takes quite a long time to descend into horror, though seeing the IFC Midnight label and the fact that I’m reviewing it is a clear indication that this eventually becomes a horror film. For the most part, RENT-A-PAL is simply tragic as David’s life truly is one no one would wish upon their worst enemy. In many ways, David is the 90’s equivalent of the incel, trapped in the basement of his home and lacking the drive and the skills to interact with those outside. The struggle David faces with interacting with the real world is made extremely clear and you can’t help but feel for the guy in this predicament—mainly because there is a key moment in the beginning where David really pours out his soul on camera in one of his videotaped interviews for the dating service. There are a lot of parallels between RENT-A-PAL and JOKER that become more obvious by the end of the film. Both films depict a person with a deep yearning to connect with someone yet lacks the social skills and mental capacity to do so.
There were times where I wanted RENT-A-PAL to go broader, deeper, and bigger, but it never really does. The film is an enigma of sorts, never falling into one specific genre or laying out what type of film it is. It doesn’t seem to care about label itself. It seems like a psychological deep dive into a demented psyche, but then again, there are moments where it seems like this bizarre tape David finds is actually haunted and formed a supernatural-like bond with its viewer. Or is David just lonely and nuts and the connection we are seeing form is all in David’s head. While I think it’s the latter, it’s never made clear, as there isn’t a time when anyone other than David sees the video. I don’t know if some clarity would have helped but had there been a scene where David is seeing/hearing something on the video that another person doesn’t, it would have been clearer and much creepier. Sadly, that scene isn’t in this film and the ambiguity of it all is nagging at me.
RENT-A-PAL feels like an awkward family photo of 1990 depicting all of the wonky styles, gaudy trends, and dated décor of the era that was trying desperately to distinguish itself from the 80’s, but turning out to be a bland transition between the electric 80’s and the grungy 90’s. At times, I feel RENT-A-PAL is too immersive in the mundane life of David. It sure takes its time for the bombastic stuff to happen. It does occur, but it might be a little too late for some. Still, this film proves to be quite the heartbreaker, mostly due to the convincingly pathetic performance by Brian Landis Folkins and the bizarre relationship he forms with the face on the screen. Days after seeing RENT-A-PAL, I can’t shake it. It’s one of those descents into the dark that pulled me in with it. And it’s kind of uncomfortable in here.
THE 2019-2020 EXTRA!
#17 – RENT-A-PAL
#18 – WARNING: DO NOT PLAY
#19 – JESUS SHOWS ME THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY
#20 – THE BABYSITTER 2: KILLER QUEEN
#21 – UNCAGED
#22 – WOUNDS
#23 – VFW
#24 – #ALIVE
#25 – AFTER MIDNIGHT
#26 – MONSTROUS
#27 – AQUASLASH
#28 – SWEETHEART
#29 – RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE
#30 – WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS
#31 – THE SHED
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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