Over the past forty years, Lin Shaye has starred in more than ninety feature films and has become a well-known and admired actress in the horror genre. She’s probably most often associated with her ongoing role in the Insidious franchise, which has spawned four films so far and is the only time I’ve seen her in a leading role, until ROOM FOR RENT.
ROOM FOR RENT was written by Stuart Flack and directed by Tommy Stovall, also known for Sedona (2011) and Aaron’s Blood (2016). Shaye plays Joyce, a lonely woman whose husband recently passed away and now lives alone in a large house with only her cat. After her husband’s death, she discovers that there is very little money in the bank and worries about how she is going to survive on her own. Besides being a rare leading role for Shaye, this is the kind of character she’s never played before, and in case there was ever any doubt, the film allows her the opportunity to prove what a fiercely diverse actress she is. She transitions skillfully between the sinister aspects of the story and the dark comedic elements in the film.
When we first meet Joyce, she is timid and homely and enjoys going to the library where she checks out romance novels. She also likes walking past a local park where teenagers skateboard and a group of boys repeatedly mock her and yell obscenities at her until one day they go too far and one of them pulls her dress up, attempting to sexually assault her while laughing. Joyce snaps, pushes the boy off her and loudly threatens to kick his ass. Shaye’s performance in this scene is absolutely heart-wrenching. Not only is she forcefully defending herself, but this is also the first glimpse into just how complex Joyce’s personality really is.
After seeing a flyer at the library about a Bed and Breakfast, Joyce decides to rent out rooms in her house to make money. Her first guests are a couple named Sarah (Valeska Miller) and Edward (Casey Nicholas Price). Joyce almost immediately becomes friends with Sarah, who’s a writer, even going so far as to tell her she thinks she should dump Edward. Joyce acts more like a mother than a hostess to her guests and even gleefully cooks and cleans for them. When she returns home, Sarah writes Joyce a letter, much to Joyce’s delight, and they begin corresponding regularly. In her letters to Sarah, Joyce exaggerates about her life, especially after a new handsome, mysterious guest arrives, named Bob (Oliver Rayon), who’s planning an extended stay at her Bed and Breakfast.
Bob drives a motorcycle, keeps a large, locked wooden box in his room, and when he first moves into the B&B he looks like he’s been in a fight. Joyce reads her romance novels and begins fantasizing about Bob. At first, it’s easy to feel bad for her because she’s old and only has her cat to keep her company, but then things get weird when she starts going through Bob’s belongings when he isn’t home. She smiles to herself as she sprays on some of his cologne and even tries out his toothbrush. She changes her entire image by wearing makeup and sexy clothes and makes up excuses to try and spend more time with Bob. All this time, she’s writing letters to Sarah gushing about Bob and eventually invites Sarah to come and stay, telling Sarah she can relax and work on the book she’s been writing. Sarah does come to visit, and she and Bob hit it off a little too well, sending Joyce into a jealous rage. ROOM FOR RENT‘s well-written script along with Joyce’s increasingly bizarre and terrifying behavior really showcase Shaye’s incredible range as an actress. Hold on to your seats, because just when you think this film can’t possibly get any crazier, it does.
By the final act, it’s clear that Joyce is willing to do anything, possibly even kill, to get what she wants, and you start to wonder if she was always unstable or if her husband’s death and the loneliness that followed pushed her over the edge. In fact, when Joyce first met Sarah, she told her that her husband’s death was an accident, but was it? ROOM FOR RENT does an excellent job of presenting some truly cringe-worthy situations and adding just the right amount of twisted humor to cause you to be both horrified and laughing out loud at the same time. The entire cast is remarkable and works well as an ensemble, but Lin Shaye is phenomenal in this film. It is without a doubt the most outstanding performance I’ve ever seen from her and I hope to see her in more lead roles in the future. ROOM FOR RENT is an enthralling psychological thriller and Lin Shaye’s portrayal of Joyce will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. ROOM FOR RENT opens May 3 in select theaters and releases May 7 on Digital.