The ‘One For All The Family’ Christmas Film

Home Alone (1990)


If you summarise Home Alone in a nutshell, a young boy left to his own devices who lays a series of traps to protect his house from two wanted criminals, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was some kind of horror film.

After all, intentional or not, Wes Craven saw this potential, taking elements from Home Alone to put into ‘The People Under Stairs’.

But lets face it; who hasn’t seen Home Alone? It was the second biggest hit of 1990 (after Jerry Zucker’s Ghost) and has enjoyed massive longevity thanks to television and home video/DVD.

Less so nowadays, but it’s surprising how many people still don’t class it as a Christmas film.

It’s understandable to a point, especially when the first things you associate with it are Macaulay Culkin, its humour and the over-the-top slapstick.

Children will always love it for the escapism it provides; what kid doesn’t watch this film and imagine themselves in Kevin’s shoes? It’s pure fantasy in a real world setting.

Everyone seems to be charmed by Kevin, or more accurately, Culkin. He is just so damn adorable and a contender for the cutest kid in film history.

Naturally charming, Culkin manages to find the balance between angelic, resilient and bratty throughout. In fact, he’s outright impudent at the beginning. So much so that even as a kid I was on his parents’ side when he gets sent to bed early.

It has the funny jokes and one-liners, clever set-ups and the Laurel and Hardy slapstick that would lead to death in any other genre, but all of these points have little to do with what makes it a staple in many households every Christmas.

First there’s the look; it oozes Christmas: snow covered streets, endless Christmas lights and the pure abundance of green and red would charm even the most miserable of Scrooges.

Secondly there’s John Williams’ score, which has to go down as one of his most underrated.

Arguably down to using the established tone, style and arrangements you’ll hear in every Christmas score, but Williams takes the formula and puts his stamp on it: keeping it simple, adding the whimsy you associate with the great man’s works, but never going to far with it.

From sombre, to eerie to outright joyous, Williams’ finger is on the pulse, creating an eclectic score with pieces that perfectly enhance the required tone of each scene, with ‘Somewhere In My Memory’ as the obvious standout number.

The obvious argument here is there’s no need for the film to be set at Christmas, and you’d be right. Using Christmas can be seen be manipulative tactic.

But the third and most important aspect is what Home Alone is really all about: family.

We watch Kevin have a blast for the bulk of the film, but we see his heartache and regret, especially with little touches like putting everyone’s stocking out in the hope he’ll see them again or that look on his face when he runs downstairs to no one on Christmas Day.

We also see a real family, granted maybe an unnecessarily large one, but they are as genuine a family you will see anywhere. They’re not all goody-goody, they’re not all horrible, they react as siblings and parents would to each other in different situations and circumstances.

The whole family is on-point, with especially fun performances from Gerry Bamman and Devin Ratray as Uncle Frank and Buzz, but the obvious stand out is Catherine O’Hara’s as Kevin’s Mom, Kate.

Played straight to begin with, O’Hara then nails the fluctuating emotions of a woman who’s left her child alone on the other side of the world.

Everything comes across as genuine and sincere, showing the levels of depths and despair a mother would go to, especially with her “Selling her soul to the devil” speech, which is funny and heart breaking at the same time.

So yes, the Christmas elements may be slightly manipulative, but you could say that about any Christmas flick. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a classic, but only a third of that is set at Christmas with no necessary reason to be.

Home Alone ticks all the boxes you associate with a holiday picture: laughs, tears, family-centric, sentimental, festive soundtrack/score, a cheerful conclusion and an overall festive ambience in look and tone.

It has many, many plot holes, but it works perfectly regardless, and without the festive elements, it wouldn’t be half the family film it is.

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