ROOM FOR RENT *** USA 2019 Dir: Tommy Stovall. 81 mins
Lin Shaye has been stealing scenes in all sorts of movies for decades, though for horror fans she has made a remarkable transition from cameos in New Line Cinema movies like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET to the unique position of leading lady in Hollywood’s lucrative INSIDIOUS franchise. Shaye has a deservedly complex leading role in this movie, which she co-produced (with INSIDIOUS composer Joseph Bishara on hand for the score) while portraying a lonely, seemingly vulnerable widow. She immediately earns our empathy as an elderly woman enduring the little indignities that accompany the sudden death of a loved one: an under-attended funeral, a porn collection to deal with, a bunch of debts he left behind and a credit card declined at the supermarket. To earn extra cash, she turns her home into a B & B and then becomes infatuated with a handsome guest (Oliver Rayon).
At heart a throwback to the cycle of 1990’s domestic landlady-from-Hell type thrillers, this finds unease in quietly icky invasions of privacy: like the recent FREEHOLD, it has a moment in which Shaye secretly uses the toothbrush owned by the object of her desire. The more knowing dialogue in Stuart Flack’s perceptive script (“Time to bury the hatchet”) hints at a potentially camp direction, though it’s too restrained overall to crossover into the post-BABY JANE Hag Horror realm. It’s a little pedestrian as a thriller and gets less interesting when it feels duty-bound to deliver some frying pan action in the final act, but Shaye’s beautifully controlled performance elevates the material: the veteran actress finding much humour in this character’s desperate attempt to ingratiate herself with (and seduce) far younger people who typically feel little more than pity for her plight. There is pathos in her obvious regrets and the sense of a life stifled by a long marriage. The supporting characters are almost entirely bland but ROOM FOR RENT reminds us how the horror genre so often affords terrific roles for the kind of undervalued older performers typically ignored by so-called “respectable” genres.
Review by Steven West