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Stars: Brian Landis Folkins, Wil Wheaton, Amy Rutledge, Kathleen Brady, Adrian Egolf

Director: Jon Stevenson

What should be (and largely is) a compelling study of loneliness, despair and obsession is ultimately overtaken by its own grimness and a desire to go full-scale chiller gorefest on us at the end.

It's 1990 in Denver, Colorado, and David (Folkins) is a bulky, bespectacled 40-year-old and the sole caregiver to an ungrateful, dementia-raddled mother (Brady) who thinks he's her late husband. Desperate for a connection with other humans (he spends his entire life at home), he enters a video dating service but, months later, has still had no luck.

Visiting the video centre, he finds an old VHS video called Rent-a-Pal which, when played, introduces him to Andy (former teenage star Wheaton), a deceptively friendly spellbinder in slipover who skilfully draws David into his web.

Meanwhile, David is told there's at last a response to his halting video introducing himself. The girl in question turns out to be Lisa (Rutledge) also a caregiver, with whom he tentatively enjoys a largely successful first date.

His mind, however, is more and more in thrall to Andy's smooth persuasiveness. He relates to what is happening in screen, imagining himself to be part of a two-way conversation, playing cards and enjoying cross-talk. But not only is he memorising the entire tape, he's being programmed by it. This will either end in release, or tragedy...or both.

Folkins, as the isolated David, and Wheaton, as the ingratiating Andy, both give superb performances that don't miss a beat. Rutledge is sympathetic as Lisa and Brady appropriately awful as the rasping mother. It's not an easy watch but, like the tape, will likely draw you in. At 108 minutes, it is, however, a bit too long for its content. A firmer hand was needed here in the editing room.

David Quinlan

USA 2020. UK Distributor: The Exchange. Colour (uncredited).
108 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 15 Nov 2020