New Horror Releases: Room For Rent (2019) - Reviewed

Obsession is an interesting concept to explore in film.  The notion that someone or something occupies a person’s every waking moment offers a great amount of creative potential for both filmmakers and actors alike.  Fatal Attraction and Single White Female are textbook examples of obsession-themed films, but there are countless others that have done a captivating job at showing us the depths to which a person can sink once obsession takes hold.  Room for Rent is one of them.

Joyce (Lin Shaye) is an elderly woman whose abusive husband recently passed away.  Struggling to get by on her own financially, she decides to rent a room in her home out to make some extra cash and combat her loneliness.  Her intentions seem innocent enough at first--until a tall, dark, and handsome drifter named Bob (Oliver Rayon) decides to rent her room, and Joyce becomes increasingly infatuated with him.  

The film’s strongest asset is Lin Shaye’s unsettling yet empathetic performance.  Often a supporting cast member, it was refreshing to see her vast talent displayed in a lead role.  She has an effortless sincerity about her in everything she does.  Her reserved, awkwardly friendly behavior in the first half of the film transitions seamlessly into an eventually menacing preoccupation with her guest.  What’s exceptional here is that despite all of the cringeworthy acts she commits in the midst of her obsession, she is still able to make the audience draw some sympathy for her throughout most of the film.  By the time she becomes dangerous, we have a strong understanding of what drove her to that point.  Despite Joyce ultimately becoming a threatening figure, there is still a sense of liberation in her finally gaining some gumption that wouldn’t feel as satisfying with a less talented actress.  Lin Shaye does a masterful job of displaying those subtleties that makes the film stand out among others where the protagonist becomes the antagonist.

Another strength of Room for Rent is its sense of restraint.  It knows how to say a great deal in saying very little.  For instance, the film opens with a bird’s eye view of Joyce’s house with a body on a stretcher outside, followed by a funeral with only two in attendance, then a scene of her aggressively throwing her wedding ring into one drawer and locking an urn into another one.  With scant dialogue, we quickly learn Joyce’s husband passed away, and that he was not a well-liked man.  The film also establishes that she is a fan of romance novels, suggesting her desire for meaningful companionship and her unrealistic impression of relationships without outwardly stating it.  Director Tommy Stovall and screenwriter Stuart Flacks are talented storytellers who consistently know what to show and when to hold back.

While the film succeeds in a great deal, what it lacks is a true sense of suspense.  The plot is one we perhaps haven’t seen played out with an elderly woman and her house guest before, but it’s one we’ve seen many times over in different iterations.  Joyce’s obsession unfurls in some unique ways, but overall, most viewers will be familiar with the premise of one person becoming progressively obsessed with another. Most pivotal moments in this film are semi-predictable, which is problematic for a film that is categorized as a thriller.  A thriller that doesn’t thrill is disappointing--despite being a nice-looking, well-paced, and well-acted film, there is little tension and no surprises in store for most viewers.

Room for Rent gets a lot right, but what it doesn’t hurts it. Watch the film for Lin Shaye’s complex performance, or if an intimate exploration of obsession sounds interesting to you, but don’t expect to remember the film as a whole years from now.

 --Andrea Riley