It’s been a genuine pleasure in recent years to witness the transformation of Lin Shaye from little-known character actor to horror film icon. Shaye has certainly had a chance to shine with her continuing role in the hugely successful Insidious franchise, but her starring role in Tommy Stoval’s indie thriller Room for Rent gives her the sort of starring vehicle for which actresses of a certain age would kill for. And speaking of killing, her lonely widow character in the film is someone whom you would definitely not want as your landlord.
Shaye plays Joyce, who discovers that she’s insolvent after her husband dies in an accident. After reading a magazine article about making easy money with “Sharebnb,” she decides to rent out a room in the spacious house that she lives in with only her cat for company.
It becomes apparent early on that Joyce, who spends most of her time reading romance novels. is an odd duck, to put it mildly. After being periodically harassed by a group of skateboarding teenagers who keep making lewd remarks, she finally snaps, angrily striking back and stunning the group’s leader by forcefully kissing him on the mouth.
Joyce’s first guests are Sarah (Valeska Miller) and her boyfriend Edward (Casey Nichols Price), whom she treats with almost motherly attention. And though Joyce and Sarah become friendly, the older woman alienates Edward, particularly when offering them cookies. “Only one for you, you’re a little fat,” Joyce announces. Sarah and Edward leave soon afterwards, but Joyce finds another tenant in the form of Bob (Oliver Rayon), a sexy drifter with a mysterious past and a tendency to get into fistfights.
The plot machinations of Stuart Flack’s screenplay can be seen from a mile away, but that doesn’t make this familiar tale of a vengeful, obsessed woman any less satisfying. Joyce becomes besotted by Bob and soon begins dressing provocatively (but looking absurd) and flirting outrageously in the manner of a love-struck teenager. She coyly asks him to bring her a towel while she’s taking a bath, and, while he’s out, takes the opportunity to use his toothbrush with an almost erotic fervor.
She also begins a correspondence with Sarah, describing her relationship with her new tenant in wildly exaggerated fashion. Not long after, Sarah comes to stay at the house for a few days and strikes up romantic sparks with Bob. Not surprisingly, Joyce doesn’t handle the situation gracefully at all well.
Shaye has a field day with her character, for whom such expressions as “It’s time to finally bury that hatchet” and “When it’s your time, it’s your time” have diabolical undertones. The actress is simultaneously terrifying and amusing, and always mesmerizing, anchoring the occasionally hokey proceedings with her nuanced performance that feels surprising at every turn. She’s wildly entertaining, but always grounded in a psychological reality that prevents Room for Rent from turning into the sort of campy horror films that Bette Davis trafficked in late in her career.
The supporting characters are not nearly as well-developed or interesting, feeling more like plot devices and reducing the film’s overall impact. And director Stovall (Aaron’s Blood), although certainly competent, doesn’t infuse the proceedings with the sort of cinematic stylishness that would have elevated Room for Rent above B-movie status. Nonetheless, it’s essential viewing for Lin Shaye fans, and that’s more than enough.
Production company: Pasidg Productions
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment
Cast: Lin Shaye, Oliver Rayon, Valeskia Miller, Ryan Ochoa
Director: Tommy Stovall
Screenwriter: Stuart Flack
Producers: Marc S. Sterling, Tommy Stoval
Director of photography: Ziryab Ben Brahem
Production designer: Samyo Shannon
Composer: Joseph Bishara
Costume designer: Paula Rogers