After her husband dies a lonely widow, Joyce, opens up her house as a guest house, only to become obsessed with one of her guests…
It’s often interesting to see how writers approach their stories. Take away the obsession angle and tweak the story, Room For Rent could have been a compelling story of a widow finding her way after her husband dying and begin a new life. An uplifting story if you will.
But debut writer, Stuart Flack, doesn’t go for the happy story. He goes for a darker one and in doing so has written a compelling character piece. Joyce is a woman who has, it seems, been dominated by her husband over the years, but now left alone not knowing what to do. She loves romance novels and sees in her guest, Bob, the type of romance she reads about, despite the age gap. She’ll do anything for him, but is also manipulative, telling lies to make those she speaks to sympathetic towards her.
Or is she truly lying all the time? One of the things about the story is that it doesn’t fill in everything. The film opens with the police at Joyce’s house after her husband has died, which we are told happened when he fell of the roof. But did he? We the audience never find that out. In a way are we being as manipulated as Bob and Sarah (another guest and potential writer) during the film? I did like that approach.
The key to this film working is another terrific performance from Lin Shaye. The past few years have seen her become a perhaps surprising star, thanks to the Insidious horror series, but she has always been a good actress. Here, she is very good indeed, thanks to a script that gives her some good material to work with.
Oliver Rayon plays Bob and doesn’t fare as well, but that’s not the fault of the actor. He has less to work with, in that we only really see him through Joyce’s eyes. Rayon does well, but perhaps he needed a bit more rounding out in that aspect. Faring slightly better is Valeska Miller as Sarah, the woman. She gets more time to develop as a character, beginning to suspect Joyce isn’t truly as she appears and yet willing to give her a chance. She too is pretty good.
Director Tommy Stovall lets the story take its time, even for film of around 80 minutes. In the opening minutes as we see Joyce struggle with her life and what to do, we see her being tormented by local youths making fun of her. When Bob moves in, there are some uncomfortable, awkward moments as Joyce tries to connect with Bob when making conversation. Stovall plays the film more as a drama than thriller, restraining with the violence to make it brief, or just off screen instead. It would have been tempting to play that aspect up, but I commend the makers for not doing that instead focusing on the characters. The ending is a good, creepy one I think too.
Room For Rent is a compelling study of obsession, that is worth seeing for Lin Shaye’s performance. It’s a film that, because of its slower pace, may struggle to find an audience, but I hope people give it a chance.
It’s a compelling little film.