Joyce (Lin Shaye) is a middle-aged woman living in Smalltown USA who we're first introduced to as she's sobbing outside her home one sunny afternoon, her husband lying dead on the ground after apparently falling from the roof while working on it.
We next meet Joyce a short while later, strapped for cash - a trip to the local bank reveals there's no money in her late partner's accounts - and lonely. Whilst at her favourite haunt, the library, she picks up a pamphlet suggesting good money can be made by renting out a room. She has the space and she could do with the company: Joyce sets about advertising her spare bedroom out to prospective guests.
It's not long before aspiring young author Sarah (Valeska Miller) and her somewhat grumpy partner Edward (Casey Nicholas Price) turn up to stay for a few days. Sarah's hoping the new surroundings will inspire her writing. Joyce is extremely attentive upon the couple's arrival, a little to Edward's disapproval. He's openly rude to her, and in a later walk with Sarah she bluntly declares her dislike for Edward. She suggests that Sarah should leave him.
Far from being offended by this advice, Sarah appreciates Joyce's candid, somewhat eccentric, approach enough to keep in touch with her: she writes to her several weeks later informing that she's left Edward and is enjoying being single. Joyce is outwardly happy with this result.
Meanwhile, Joyce has been getting stick from a group of local kids. Headed by teenaged ringleader Wayne (Ryan Ochoa), these ruffians hurl abuse at her, imply sexual assault against her and throw eggs at her windows. Why? Because she seemingly has a penchant for visiting the local park and watching kids playing.
But things start looking up for Joyce when she's given the notion of extending her B&B endeavour into a "room for rent" ploy, offering longer-term accommodation for those requiring it.
Enter the mysterious Bob (Oliver Rayon), who Joyce meets in the library one day. He's sporting unexplained facial injuries but is otherwise an attractive young man looking for somewhere to stay locally for a while. Joyce is quick to dismiss the alternative accommodation he's been considering, and invites him into her home.
Bob is polite, grateful of Joyce's attention (meals on tap, bed linen changed every day etc) and has clearly made an impression on hole-in-her-heart Joyce. So much so that she writes a letter to Sarah gushing about this new man in her life. Bob has even battered Wayne, thus solving Joyce's problems with the local brats.
But early indications suggest that Joyce is a little too zealous in her infatuation with Bob. Little things like sampling his toothbrush and dressing in inappropriately skimpy clothing whenever he's around. Bob doesn't appear too disturbed by these things ... to begin with.
By the time Sarah contacts Joyce announcing she'll be in the area soon and would like to pay her a visit, possibly even meet this Bob character she keeps harping on about, Joyce is fully engrossed in the object of her desires
Of course, Sarah's arrival - and Joyce's ill-advised offer of putting her up for the duration of her say - is going to upset the proverbial applecart. Not least of all because Sarah and Bob take an obvious instant shine to each other.
The time-bomb inside of Joyce begins ticking louder than ever ...
ROOM FOR RENT, directed by Tom Stovall and written by Stuart Flack, is a nuanced psychological piece which explores an older character's reaction to grief and loss, and their desperate clinging on to the hope of a fresh opportunity at happiness. It relies largely on Shaye's central performance, a rare leading role for the acclaimed actress who has of course been working for years but earned kudos with younger audiences in recent years via modern horror entries such as OUIJA and INSIDIOUS.
Shaye is very good as the loner with a hidden dark past who's equally vulnerable, but fiercely defensive when the occasion calls for her to be. She wins our sympathy but also has the viewer doubting the lucidity of her actions when she starts to reveal more off-kilter tendencies. As ever, her onscreen presence is one that can gear from kindness and subtlety to a believable intensity within seconds without ever missing a beat. She takes on the role with typical gusto, and carries the film for the large part.
Stovall shoots the film in a rather pedestrian manner, and this curiously works in its favour. It's thankfully frills-free, opting for a straightforward narrative approach and a distinct lack of modern flashiness or technical trickery. This may alienate some who want their share of jump-cuts, psychedelic interludes and pop culture references - it's a little like a Lifetime Channel film at times, I'll be honest - but this simplistic slant allows for a small story anchored by a committed performance to take centre stage.
The rest of the cast aren't bad either, with Miller shining through in particular as a sympathetic character who nevertheless has the intelligence to see through things quickly and the resolve to directly question what's going on. Rayon is good too, albeit underused. I feel like there's an unexplored story behind his character: we learn very little about the unexplained package he gets delivered to Joyce's home, or the phone call he makes in a foreign language, or why he turns up one evening with a fresh bruise above his eye.
Ultimately, ROOM FOR RENT is horror-lite. It's low on violence and even threat, but it is constantly engaging - largely due to Shaye's performance. It's well-shot and edited, and never bores. Whether I'll remember it a fortnight from now ... I'm unsure.
ROOM FOR RENT is available to buy on DVD from Uncork'd Entertainment in the US. It's also recently been made available to stream for free on Amazon Prime.
The 16x9 transfer proffers a crisp, clean HD picture with sharp colourful images and solid blacks. English stereo audio is robust throughout, while optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing are well-written and easy to read throughout. At 81 minutes and 42 seconds in length, the film is uncut.
ROOM FOR RENT isn't a bad proposition. It's definitely worth a punt if you enjoy watching Lin Shaye doing her thing.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Uncork'd Entertainment|