The Dark Subversive Heart of Home Sweet Home Alone

Disney's latest sequel/reboot of the Christmas classic fails in a very fascinating way that hints at a much darker movie hidden under the surface.

Actual quality doesn’t matter with a new Home Alone film. The Internet will judge it harshly regardless. The original film is genuinely great but even so has now transcended to a Christmas classic, embroiled in nostalgia that hides any possible flaws and makes its generations of fans defensive about anyone daring touch it. Any remake will not just be compared to the original but also everyone’s personal memories of it; a fight impossible to win.

This is all to say that, like everyone else on the Internet, I trashed the trailer for Home Sweet Home Alone when it was released. It looked awful. But then I actually watched it this holiday season and was surprised. Not by the quality, it is indeed terrible, but it isn’t the simple remake the trailer led me to believe. It’s rubbish in a different, unexpected way. A way that feels somewhat subversive, whether intentional or not.

The film’s twist is that the burglars are the protagonists this time around. Yet, supposedly, so is Max Mercer, the child left home alone. To achieve this the conflict of the film is birthed from misunderstanding where everyone is ultimately friendly yet confused. The burglars are Jeff and Pam McKenzie, parents of a family struggling financially, who believe Max has stolen an item of great worth from them that could solve their money troubles. In a way, the housing crisis is the real antagonist. How very 2008. Helped in part by performances from Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney, who I always enjoy, Pam and Jeff are sympathetic characters. The issue is that Max is supposed to be equally sympathetic, and has to be for the story to work, but he is most definitely not.

Max is insufferable. He’s supposed to be cute and charming but he’s just rude and obnoxious. Before I go too far, I don’t blame young actor Archie Yates for this characterisation – he was fantastic in Jojo Rabbit – but rather the writers. The first thing he does to Jeff is sneak into his house, insult him, and then steal from him, and this is supposed to be the likable new answer to Kevin McAllister. His moaning about his family isn’t relatable, just annoying. Then he steals from a charity toy drive despite being incredibly rich. His entire family are presented as these upper-class assholes who deserve to be robbed and are even occasionally racist. I hate these people. I also wonder if the writers decided the family should be British because our comedy characters are often terrible people yet sympathetic in some way. But it’s not the accent that builds empathy, it’s the writing, and that fails monumentally.

This leaves us with a family film seemingly about how kids suck. This is certainly a dark subversive take for a Home Alone film to take and I’m left wondering how intentional it is. Is the viewer’s hatred for the family, particularly Max, simply the result of a series of misjudgments or secretly on purpose? Could it be sabotage by the writers behind shiny, glossy Disney’s back, making a point about classism and rich, demanding children? Either way, what we’re left with is a film where the child protagonist is as close to the villain as you can get. This is certainly a fascinating idea but it destroys how the rest of the film is constructed. We have 30 minutes of Pam and Jeff being tortured and injured by Max’s booby traps but, at the end of the day, I don’t want to see them get hurt. I’d rather Max be the one hit in the head with a paint can.

The film’s single laugh comes from Aisling Bea, who deserves better, doing a posh English accent, trapped on a plane with an annoying co-passenger, but even the mother/son relationship crucial to the film fails. After days apart the two reconnect with an offscreen phone call. There’s none of the emotion or heart of Home Alone. In fact, the film would be better as its own unique Christmas film. It begins very differently, and its best scenes are wholly original ones, but then it begins playing the familiar beats we all know. The film rushes through them, almost as an afterthought, played out over the bare minimum of screentime and included just for the sake of it. Max being home alone feels more like a subplot. Then Home Sweet Home Alone introduces the character of Buzz from the original, now a police officer, for two brief scenes included as a useless connection before disappearing. He doesn’t play into the plot at all. And don’t get me started on them occasionally, completely unearned, playing pieces of John Williams’s classic music.

The film ends with everyone coming to an understanding, realising how useless everything that has happened in the movie has been, and sharing Christmas together. Apparently, after almost being murdered by him, Pam and Jeff become the only people on the planet who don’t hate Max.

As a character dares to say in the film, “I don’t know why they are always trying to remake the classics. Never as good as the originals”. He’s absolutely right. But when Home Sweet Home Alone isn’t trying to remake a classic, when it’s doing its own thing, and even, whether accidently or secretly purposefully, embracing a subversive take on the family film genre, it’s actually quite interesting. It’s just that this dark heart completely destroys the movie it’s also lamely trying to be and was never going to succeed to begin with. Merry Christmas.

Have you dared watch Home Sweet Home Alone? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.

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