Guests and Ghosts: The Horror of Being in Another’s Home

Dustin Waters
Dustin Waters is a writer from Macon, Ga, currently living in D.C. After years as a beat reporter in the Lowcountry, he now focuses his time on historical oddities, trashy movies, and the merits of professional wrestling.

I want to talk about a very specific type of fear. And I’ll do so by starting out with a scene from the 2000 Ben Stiller comedy Meet the Parents

During his first visit to his longtime girlfriend’s family home, Stiller’s Greg Focker sleeps in late, only to find the entire family well into breakfast. “Hey, look who’s up,” one person yells, drawing added attention to Greg’s status as the lone outsider who failed to rise and shine on time with the others. The remainder of the scene only serves to amplify the awkwardness of Greg’s situation and his status as an outsider. 

This scene highlights a very specific, yet nearly universal, anxiety that is often found in comedy and horror. The best example of this sort of trope in horror is Jordan Peele’s cinematic breakthrough Get Out, which expertly mines this Meet the Parents format to examine race and racism. 

But Get Out is probably one of the most analyzed horror films of all time, so let’s look at some lesser known, more recent examples of this subgenre of horror (that oddly does not include the fantastic 2014 action horror film The Guest).

The subtle 2018 horror film Don’t Leave Home continues this article’s theme of super on-the-nose movie titles. The film follows Melanie, a financially strapped artist who gets a cryptic, yet lucrative, offer. Her upcoming exhibit catches the attention of a reclusive former priest who left the church due to suspicions that he was involved in the disappearance of a young child. 

Melanie finds herself flown out to the aging Irish estate of the reclusive holy man and his welcoming handler, Shelly, who is just a bit too hospitable. Melanie is tasked with completing an art piece with the promise that wealthy bidders will soon descend upon the home. Over the course of her stay, Melanie seems a little too willing to attribute signs of danger to old world eccentricity. 

It should be no surprise to anyone, but the invitation soon turns into a trap. Melanie realizes a little too late that in accepting her invitation as a guest, she’s allowed herself to become a prisoner. 

Next we have two Indonesian horror films released in 2019 and penned by Joko Anwar. The first, Impetigore, follows a young tollbooth worker, Maya, who survives an attack by a native of her home village. 

Maya left the village at a young age and was raised by an aunt. Following the attack, she learns that her ancestral estate could be sold for a substantial profit. This desire to cash in causes Maya and her friend to travel to the isolated community to see what’s what. 

The “what” is that all the locals believe that executing Maya will end a yearslong curse that her parents brought upon the village that results in all children being born skinless. The irony here is that Maya is an outsider in her own hometown. But what’s more interesting here is how the film examines the animosity that its female star experiences from strangers solely due to their expectations and preconceived notions. 

Anwar’s other 2019 horror, The Queen of Black Magic, delves into these themes a bit further. This remake features several men returning to the remote orphanage where they were raised. With them come their wives, who end up paying the most for their partners’ past sins. 

As is often the case with cursed orphanages, terrible fates befall all the guests — none more gruesome than the spouses of those who grew up there. In true Meet the Parents fashion, the visiting spouses have their insecurities preyed upon. 

One character is sensitive to her perceived recent weight gain due to a new hormone therapy. Thanks to some nasty black magic, she ends up slicing away the belly and jowls she sees in an enchanted mirror. 

Another character, mocked by her husband at dinner for being a germaphobe in hysterics, is overrun by insects. Trading one bug for another, she rips at her flesh and vomits bile, her torment brought on as a result of the wrongdoings of her husband and his childhood pals. 

So that’s a look at how these three films examine the fear of being trapped in someone else’s home. You may also call this “Thanksgiving” or any other holiday where you allow yourself to be brought into a home that is not your own but to which you are tethered. Just remember that you’ve likely done the same to someone else, so at the very least, make sure your guest is on time to breakfast. 

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