The Unknown Guest as Catalyst

Family. A group of people who are supposed to be the closest to us and also a group of people we cannot choose.

The importance of an outside character to set a family drama into motion in Adam Wingard’s The Guest and Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q.

Family. A group of people who are supposed to be the closest to us and also a group of people we cannot choose. That very premise alone is enough to inspire plenty of stories due to its complex nature where family members are more difficult to avoid having a relationship to than other people. Someone who is not family we can simply decide not to be friends with – though that at times can prove difficult as well – but a family member is someone we already have some sort of relationship with and that is harder to get out of. There are several stories where the family itself is enough to both begin, set in motion and end a complete family drama. Then there are those families who seem to be stuck in limbo, incapable of moving forward. The family situation might contain several elements which make up a good story, but the members are too traumatized or have long given up any hope for change that nothing is moving forward. This is where an outside force is needed. An unknown or unexpected guest who enters the family and sets things in motion. In Adam Wingard’s The Guest and in Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q, this is precisely what is necessary.

The Guest
The Guest (2014) is the feature-length follow-up to director Adam Wingard’s You’re Next which might best be described as a survival horror film set in a house and its surroundings as a group of young people are attacked by people in animal masks. In his latest film however, he seems to have been given a higher budget which he spends on a more open environment. We are introduced to a family stuck trying to maintain an image of a functioning family, but since the oldest son died in Iraq, things are understandably not what they used to be.

Each member of the family has enough to deal with that a family-only storyline would have worked. The father seems to be stuck in the same position year after year at his work with a promotion close, but never within grasp. How he deals with the loss of his son is not explicitly told – and neither is it for any of the others in the family – but a drinking problem is hinted at. Being a stay-at-home mom, the mother tries to go about her day keeping her family together and at first she might actually appear to be the least interesting character. The younger son is still in high school and is the victim of quite severe bullying from the more popular sporty students and his older sister works as a waitress during the day and spends the evenings with her stoner friends. And this is their lives and there is no sign of it changing any time soon.

Enter the guest, a young good-looking man who claims to have been a friend of the dead son during his time in Iraq. The mother immediately takes him in and her reaction to meeting this, up until now, unknown person fills a void in her and the offering of her dead son’s room to this guest clearly suggests that she sees him as more than just a friend of her son’s. The other family members are at first a bit more suspicious, but it doesn’t take long before they are all on board and the story can be set in motion, thanks to this catalyst that is the guest. Bullies are dealt with, job opportunities open up and things just might be heading in the right direction for the family. At least at first.

Visitor Q
Similar to The Guest, Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q (2001), also introduces us to a family stuck in limbo, although there is no doubt of this family’s problems. Miike is not a director known for subtlety, and while The Guest hints at problems and dysfunction, the family in Visitor Q would provide a team of family therapists work material for decades to come. The father is a failed television reporter trying to achieve some success by documenting the bullying of his son without him knowing it. The son meanwhile takes out his frustration caused by the bullying on his mother in violent bursts of outrage. Being a Miike film, the problems do not end there as the mother is a heroin addict and a prostitute and the daughter in the family is a prostitute as well. The situation is so severe that no one knows where to even begin trying to save this family. The father comes across as impotent in both a figurative and literal sense being unable to control neither his life nor his family. And the film would simply stop right there with no change or twist taking place. An outside catalyst is desperately needed.

This is where Q appears in the film. He introduces himself to the audience and the father by smacking dad on the head with a brick. Invited home to the family by the father after the incident, Q sets the story in motion and what unfolds before our eyes is one of the darkest, most twisted, but somehow lighthearted, comedies/family dramas ever made.

Finally, even though there are several films that could be used for this particular type of story, The Guest and Visitor Q provide two examples of films where the problems of the family are interesting enough to provide at least the backbone of a story, but all the family members are too deeply involved emotionally with themselves to bring about any change whatsoever. An outsider is needed. A guest is needed.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2015-01-19