Few things are more terrifying than discovering an evil presence in the place where you lay your head down to sleep. Room For Rent, the suspenseful and unsettling film from director, Tommy Stovall brings the concept of a landlord from hell to the next level with a creeping dread that will have you squirming in your seat.
Lin Shaye has appeared alongside notable horror icons in the original A Nightmare On Elm Street and the Insidious films, even playing a disgusting landlady in the 90’s bowling comedy, Kingpin. But in Room For Rent, Shaye inhabits a role that reveals a truly twisted mind in a real world setting, which will have renters looking over their shoulders and vacationers thinking twice about booking a room at a quaint Bed and Breakfast.
I love horror movies, especially supernatural spook-fests with ghosts and monsters that can give you a blood-soaked laugh and a scream. What I tend to stay away from in my movie selections are psychological thrillers and suspense films that set their scares in familiar settings. I know the world can be a dark place and I go to movies to escape that depressing bit of truth. The assignment to review Room For Rent was an endurance test for me.
Room For Rent is a slow burn as we are introduced to the recently widowed, Joyce played by Lin Shaye silently picking up the pieces of her life after the death of her husband. This socially awkward woman is obviously in a bad way and the perversely sexual taunts by a group of skate punks led by a despicable Ryan Ochoa serve only to agitate her fragile mind. This bullying causes us to sympathize with Joyce, but will that feeling last?
Looking for a next step and a social outlet, Joyce stumbles upon the idea of turning her home into a bed and breakfast, which is the perfect source of income for someone who lives in the scenic Sedona, AZ. From the film’s opening shot I instantly recognized the iconic red rock cliffs, as I live just a few hours away from this natural wonder. The filming of this idyllic landscape serves perfectly as a juxtaposition to the ugly side of humanity soon to be on display.
When Joyce’s first guests arrive in the form of Sarah played by Valeska Miller and her jerk boyfriend, we get a glimpse of the widow’s lack of boundaries and manipulative nature masked in the timid look of a kind old lady. Instantly Joyce inserts herself into the relationship, convincing Sarah to get rid of her grumpy significant other and the women agree to keep up their correspondence, which serves as the lonely woman’s only social outlet through which to share the fantasy world she is beginning to wrap herself in.
Shaye is very adept at playing the victim in her role, forcefully extracting sympathy from anyone who will listen and then reeling them into her plans. This is where I started to feel my jaw clench and my palms sweat. I’ve encountered many people in the world who skillfully play the victim to fill a void or need for attention, it is pathetic and upsetting to watch. So even before the killing starts, Shaye had already become a vessel for horror in my mind.
It’s worth pointing out that Room For Rent is a well shot and edited film from a purely visual perspective. The director carefully takes his time in presenting uncomfortable scenes involving invasion of privacy, often in silence that enhances the creep factor of Joyce’s actions and add a voyeuristic sense of tension. Most of Room For Rent’s central scenes could play as a silent film and still get the point across.
Shaye really digs into the role of awkward entrepreneur as she goes trolling for tenants and finds herself latching onto a handsome, motorcycle riding tough guy, Bob played by Oliver Rayon as a full-time tenant. Rayon brings a Melrose Place kind of vibe to his role of the tortured loner with secrets that Joyce seeks to uncover when he is not in his room. There is very troubling scene of Shaye going through Bob’s bag that pushes her character way beyond the boundaries of a simple snooping landlord.
Shaye’s moments of feigned interest in sports and manic delight at having Bob in the house are masterful in the display of desperation for companionship that her brain seems unable to understand. Does she want to have Bob as a lover or is he just a tool to make her feel like she has a form of success to present to a world that she in unable to connect with on her own terms.
Once Joyce begins mixing reality with her favorite romance novel and writing Sarah about the imagined relationship she has with the much younger Bob, we see that this reverse Catfish scenario has some potentially dangerous consequences. Especially when the now single Sarah returns to visit again and strikes up a real romance with Bob.
Watching Joyce pull people into her weird world was scary enough, but as reality begins to intrude on her fantasy, the widow begins violently grasping at the unraveling threads and desperation turns deadly. All sympathy washes away as we are left with an absolutely terrifying ending that produces horror without gore or graphic violence, in place of these cheap tricks, a disgusting promise of twisted plans that will come to fruition sometime after credits roll. The promise of that unseen evil will make you sick.
Room For Rent uses the essence of thrillers like Misery, Single White Female and Fatal Attraction, but manages synthesize them into a new experience that gets under your skin in the most subtle of ways. For those who are willing to endure a film that seems like it could be ripped from the headlines to become a national news sensation in our true crime obsessed media world, Room For Rent is a wild ride you won’t soon forget.
Room For Rent is available May 7th on VOD from Uncork’d Entertainment.