As corny as that description sounds, Deadly Games is somehow crazier and more realistic than its famous American cousin. Where Home Alone combines Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? bickering with Looney Tunes carnage and wraps it up with a schmaltzy ending, Deadly Games plays its premise relatively straight. As a result, its violence is more shocking, its stakes much higher, and its emotion is better earned.
The key difference between the two movies can be found in the thing that seems to tie them together: their young protagonists. Like Kevin McCallister, Thomas’s extreme privilege belies familial turmoil. The grandson of a wildly successful toy store founder, Thomas seems to embody every kid’s dream, living in a giant mansion with all the toys in the world. This largesse allows him to indulge in his daydreams, which tend to draw from American movies. We first meet Thomas snoozing in the cockpit of a full-size World War II fighter plane, fantasizing about dogfights and daring escapes.
Leaving aside the lavish wealth on display, one might wonder why this kid gets to spend so much time playing war. Surely, his mother realizes he’s growing up to be a psycho? But when we see Thomas and his mother together, we realize that she’s doing the best she can. We first meet her interrupting Thomas’s dogfighting dreams to call him to breakfast. But rather than scold her son, she plays along, asking him to “free the dog” before coming to eat.
This level of care sets Thomas apart from Kevin. Sure, Kevin’s mom does leave France right away when she realizes that she’s left him at home. And her trip back to Chicago forces her to face down that most dangerous of Midwestern menaces, a polka band. But her tearful reunion with Kevin lasts only a few minutes, a pittance compared to the first act, in which the McCallisters dump on Kevin simply because they can.
For Thomas, an addiction to violence is all fantasy, a way to escape from his difficult life. Director René Manzor showcases that approach in an early scene that recreates a “suiting-up” montage from Rambo: First Blood Part II. Close-ups follow Thomas’s little bicep-less arms as he sharpens a bowie knife and strap bandoliers of nerf-bullets across his tiny chest. As fierce as Thomas wants to be, with a sneer peeking out from under the red headband he wraps around his chest, he’s just a kid playing dress up and the movie never lets us forget it.
You would think that an action movie-loving kid would love nothing more than to have someone break into his house full of trinkets. But when Thomas first sees the man, he responds not as a PTSD-stricken Sylvester Stallone character, but as a little kid: he thrills at the fact that Santa is real and hides not to spoil the surprise. But when the man kicks and then kills Thomas’s dog, Thomas doesn’t swear revenge: he huddles in shock, because he’s a child.