Fans of psychological thrillers like Fear (1996), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), and The Crush (1993), take note: the new movie, Room for Rent, aims to be something akin to the stalker/obsession and domestic thrillers that were popular during the 1990s. Recently, there seems to be somewhat of a resurgence of interest in the sub-genre. How does Room for Rent stack up? Let’s take a look inside..
When her husband unexpectedly dies, aging Joyce is faced with an unexpected amount of debt that needs to be paid off. In order to earn money, Joyce decides that she will rent out part of her house, and she quickly becomes obsessed with her young tenant, Bob.
Room for Rent stars veteran actress Lin Shaye, who horror fans will recognize from the Insidious franchise, Oliver Rayon, Valeska Miller, Ryan Ochoa, Linda Cushma, and Casey Nicholas-Price. The film was directed by Tommy Stovall from a screenplay by Stuart Flack.
The cast is led by Lin Shaye who does an impressive job of portraying Joyce. A character like Joyce could easily come across as one-dimensional, but the script, along with Shaye’s performance, gives enough layers to the role that she becomes real. I enjoyed the fact that some questions I had about Joyce are never fully answered by the movie’s end. There are moments when Joyce seems to live in a fantasy world that draws influence from the romance novels that she likes to read. As for the cause of her mental state, there was one idea that kept burning in the back of mind: is it Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia taking over? As the object of Joyce‘s obsession, Oliver Rayon plays off Shaye’s character very well, and Valeska Miller is likeable as Joyce‘s “new friend”, Sarah.
Unlocking the Plot
Room for Rent leans heavy on the psychological end of the thriller spectrum, but when the plot kicks into gear, the story loses some of its force. The movie is better viewed as a character study than a run-of-the-mill horror flick. After watching the movie, I’m still not entirely sure what Joyce‘s motives are. Is she obsessed with Bob in a purely sexual way? Or does she genuinely feel a motherly connection toward him? Sometimes, muddy, unclear character motivations can be frustrating, but in the case of Room for Rent, it works pretty well and is reflective of Joyce‘s mental state.
There are flourishes of dark humor throughout the film, as well. There were times while watching Room for Rent that I was reminded of something along the line of John Waters’s Serial Mom (1994). And, the fact that the film revolves around an older woman who is obsessed with someone much younger is a nice spin on the obsession/stalker genre. These two factors add a fresh take to the sub-genre.
Be aware that Room for Rent does not offer much in the way of horror movie scares, but don’t be too disappointed because there is an underlying creep-factor that runs through the entire production. Some of the scenarios between Joyce and Bob are so off-the-wall wacky and weird (one involving Bob‘s coffee, another with his toothbrush, and several with Joyce‘s choice in dressing) that they need to be seen to be believed. Throughout the film, Joyce continues to straddle the line between lust and familial desire towards Bob, making the stalker and obsession stuff all the more strange. During these scenes, Lin Shaye is perfect as the unhinged main character. There is very little blood and gore in the movie, but the scenes where Joyce descends into the most sinister spectrum of her character, are tonally spot-on.
Vacating the Premises
While I didn’t love the movie, Room for Rent is a fun watch. Even though the story benefits from a short running time (clocking in at just 81 minutes), there were a few times when I felt like there were big jumps from scene to scene, making portions of the movie feel pieced together. Initially, I was prepared to take off points for film editing, but after letting the film sink in a little more, I’ve come to the conclusion that the editing style is appropriate for Joyce‘s mentality. I recommend Room for Rent as a darkly humorous and well-acted character study, but, by the film’s end, the horror/thriller plotting seems to get in the way and ultimately takes away some of the punch.
Room for Rent hits limited theaters on May 3rd, and will be available on streaming services beginning May 7th. Are you planning on checking it out? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!