Actress Lin Shaye has been on a roll as of late. Having appeared in over two hundred projects, including the highly popular Insidious franchise, it’s odd that she hasn’t previously been recognized as much for her outstanding performances. Room for Rent gives Shaye a chance to flex her acting chops, but without much payoff…
…Written by Stuart Flack and directed by Tommy Stovall (Aaron’s Blood), Room for Rent is a character study featuring one of horror’s best actresses at the moment, Shaye, as an old woman who has recently lost her husband. Lonely and needing money, she decides to rent out a room in her house, but finds herself obsessively swooning over young stud, Bob (Oliver Rayon). Awkward cougar one-sided romance, activate!
But seriously, Shaye is as exceptional as ever in Room for Rent, despite the weight of the film’s dull script. Focused one hundred percent on Shaye, aka Joyce, and the hungry beast that is loneliness consuming Joyce’s mind, Shaye leads the audience through the film with a captivating performance which Room for Rent owes every bit of success to. Shaye is devastating as an old woman barraged by the world, from punk kids attempting to rape her in the park, to younger women (Valeska Miller) trying to steal her main man, Bob. Watching this, I was completely enraptured and disturbed by Shaye, especially in scenes such as when she dolls herself up and mimics Bob watching football in an attempt to relate to him. She’s like an elementary school-girl with a crush, which is insanely unsettling coming from a woman her age. There’s something off and genuinely uncomfortable about the whole thing, and Shaye exceeds at getting the audience to not only cringe throughout, but also feel for a character we know we won’t necessarily be rooting for towards the end.
Alas, all I wanted to watch was Shaye go batshit insane on good ole Bob, but, despite Shaye’s performance, the script is a tremendous letdown. For one, character motivations are vague at best, nonsensical at worst. We understand that Joyce’s husband was an abusive man, and, whether or not she actually killed him herself (we’re never sure), it doesn’t seem right that she would suddenly decide she wants to marry the half-her-age Bob. And if you can buy that, then the problem becomes the fact that both Bob and Joyce’s new friend/guest, Sarah (Miller), are reduced to such secondary roles, they might as well be crusty wallpaper. Both Rayon and Miller are good on screen, but the film treats this odd love triangle like a triangle of one, without letting the audience get to know Sarah or Bob on a level any deeper than what they mean to Joyce. We see them the way she sees them, as sort of objects, diluting the emotional drama of the situation and leaving them to what feel like forced interactions without much motivation.
The lack of investment in important role players is one thing, but the film’s dull nature is another. Room for Rent often comes off like a Lifetime channel film, telling an emotional story about a woman mistreated by men, but with a by the numbers look and devoid of suspense. This story is brimming with potential as a dark study of the effects of abuse and the way we mistreat ourselves as a result, yet Flack’s script never quite gets deep enough with Joyce. The film consistently seems to side-step the darkness eating away at her. Very little of the drama brewing between Joyce, Bob and Sarah truly comes to a head, and in moments where their “relationships” are confronted, the payoff is brief and underwhelming, with a resolution that will probably leave many scratching their heads.
But, while the film disappoints when it comes to the stark terror of Joyce’s madness, there are plenty of awkward moments that make sure you’ll never want to rent a room from Joyce. Shaye sneaks around her guest’s rooms. Glams herself up to try to convince Bob to take her on a ride into town. Writes to Sarah acting like she’s in a relationship with him, only for Sarah to arrive and see that’s not at all the case. If anything positive can be said for Room to Rent aside from Shaye’s heart-wrenching performance, it’s that Stovall does a great job of making the audience squirm and cringe like we’re all sucking on those warhead candies, sour apple flavor. Every smile from Shaye in these moments appears as if it’s on the brink of shattering into a contorted mess of rage, and it’s enough to make us realize Joyce is not as fragile as she may look. Stovall uses framing to get us up close and personal with Joyce, so even though Shaye is hardly ever allowed to be truly intimidating, we can practically smell the pungent madness on her breath.
Fragile old woman or psychotic rage monster, Shaye’s performance is the only thing that keeps Room for Rent from being a snooze fest, and makes the film worth the watch on its own. The character relationships around her, including Bob and Sarah’s own romance, were too unnatural or built up too little for me to fully engage in the barely beating heart of this story. Odd as it may be, this is just one of many dark love triangle stories without much of anything to set it apart from its midday afternoon television brethren, except maybe for the incredibly strange, anti-climactic ending which may win for weirdest final confrontation of the year. Don’t rent a room with Joyce. Instead, go back and watch highlights of Lin Shaye’s acting career. The woman deserves so much more recognition for her work.
Rent out the Room for Rent when it releases on VOD May 7th from Uncork'd Entertainment.
By Matt Konopka