Room for Rent is a familiar “psycho landlady” thriller, greatly elevated by the performance of the character actor Lin Shaye.
Shaye has built a career (and developed a cult following) playing such offbeat roles as the grotesque, over-tanned Magda (There’s Something About Mary) and Elise, the medium in the Insidious franchise.
Here, she plays Joyce, a 70-something woman who suddenly finds herself alone and broke when her husband dies. Desperately wondering how she’s going to live, she finds a magazine at a local library about how to convert your home into a bed and breakfast. She decides that it’s the perfect solution to end her financial woes as well as to combat loneliness.
She rents a room to a mysterious young drifter, Bob (Oliver Rayon), whose shady criminal activities she happily overlooks as she imagines a vivid fantasy life in which they are romantically involved. Indulging his every whim, she even dresses in embarrassingly age-inappropriate outfits in the hopes of wooing her unwitting tenant.
A pretty previous guest, Sarah (Valeska Miller), returns for a visit, and Joyce invents a story about how blissful she is with Bob. But when he meets Sarah, the sexual attraction is instant and they end up in bed, causing Joyce to go all-out psycho.
Although it treads familiar territory, Room for Rent still manages to veer off into strange and kinky directions. When a skater punk (Ryan Ochoa) with something to prove tries to intimidate Joyce by threatening her with rape, she responds by kissing him full on the mouth, much to his disgust.
And when Bob is out for the afternoon, the obsessed woman sneaks into his bedroom, applies his deodorant under her arms and uses his toothbrush. The film has several such scenes that are both appallingly funny and cringe-inducing.
Joyce is the type of character that Shaye can do in her sleep, but she is committed to this performance. It’s fun to watch as she transforms from desperate widow to man-hungry predator and finally to full-on psycho.
Rayon and Miller are also good as Bob and Sarah, although the viewer must frequently overlook the fact that they want to be friends with this clearly unhinged older woman, let alone sleep under the same roof with her.
The film is directed for maximum creepiness by Tommy Stovall — Joyce is always lurking somewhere — and screenwriter Stuart Flack adds a nice twist at the climax. The good-looking cinematography by Ziryab Ben Brahem alternates between sunny exteriors (shot in Sedona, Arizona) and shadowy interiors. A visual expression of Joyce’s conflicting personalities, perhaps?
Room for Rent opens May 3 at selected theaters and is available on VOD May 7 from Uncork’d Entertainment.