The Stepfather (2009)
The Stepfather is completely wrong. It did not need re-making, it has too many superfluous scenes, it fails to scare and ultimately the title is a misnomer as our antagonist doesn’t actually become a Stepfather! Dull, predictable, clichéd and a complete waste of time. Avoid.
For the first five minutes we’re treated to The Stepfather (Dylan Walsh) walking through his home, eating peanut-butter sandwiches and getting ready to leave. Then we see his entire step-family, dead, presumably murdered by him. He blithely ignores them before leaving this shattered home forever. This is the set-up.
So we know he’s evil – but this clearly is not enough for the idiots in the cheap seats. We’re then treated to a scene at a police station that lets us know he is really, really evil – his M.O. is this – become stepfather, kill family, repeat. Although occasionally it is nice to know who the antagonist is, in this case it’s so fish-slapped-in-your-face obvious you will just spend ninety minutes waiting for him to go a bit mental. This would be satisfying if the build up was subtle and tense… but it’s not. It’s utterly, woefully, eye-rollingly dull.
Dylan Walsh plays David Harris to perfection. He is genuinely likeable as the friendly husband and father figure, firmly cementing the “too-good-to-be-true” cliché in our minds. When he begins to change, and show his darker side, Walsh is also very effective, and very believable. Sadly, he has little to work with in regards to script and plot, and what could’ve been his Jack Torrance role turned into something of a wash-out.
The general concept is very hard to stomach – we’re meant to believe this man only uses cash (where he gets this limitless pile of money from is not clear), has never been photographed, and has never had to show any official documentation… despite being married dozens of times. In this case, and serving as a huge misnomer for the title, David Harris has not yet married his latest victim Susan Harding (Sela Ward). Yet it has been six months of wooing and loving, to the extent he’s moved into the family home. Yet still there are no signs of Harris’ psychosis until Susan’s son Michael (Penn Badgley) returns home from military school, and then everything goes a bit wrong. The whole concept is difficult to accept, which ultimately makes the film mildly pointless.
Using the original scripting and story of the 1987 version, writer J.S. Cardone dials down the tension and slides in some very perfunctory dialogue. Cardone also wrote the Prom Night remake and The Covenant, and even directed Wicked Little Things – all three films being by-the-book and relatively dull – so it’s no surprise The Stepfather is both predictable and drowning in clichés. Director Nelson McCormick also proves experience matters, as his entire career has been television drama based, and this is precisely how the direction comes across. It feels like a family drama with an added serial killer twist, as it’s directed without tension or suspense.
Casting wise, apart from Dylan Walsh, Penn Bagley’s portrayal of Michael is the only really notable performance, and genuinely the only character you actually care for. Sela Ward does a decent turn as Michael’s mum, but her necessary ignorance of Harris’ gradual descent into lunacy makes her distinctly unlikable in her stupidity.
The inclusion of Amber Heard as Michael’s girlfriend is seemingly shoe-horned in so Heard can spend the entire movie in her underwear – a bikini, tiny panties, a smaller bikini – adding nothing but pointless and needless titillation to the screen. And her inclusion completely eclipses the other children in the Harding family – poor youngsters Sean and Beth Harding spend most the film going places so they don’t have to be in the house and on screen – the dentist, their Dad’s house, some random camp. It’s so tenuous it’s laughable.
The inclusion of the ex-husband is a nice touch, being an aggressive pig who is oddly one of the more sympathetic characters. The other secondary characters are utterly needless – especially Susan’s friends – and just appear as fodder for The Stepfather to kill. Quite wisely, the star of the 1987 original Terry O’Quinn (Lock from TV’s Lost), turned down a cameo role.
Featuring an incredibly disappointing finale and ending, the audience is not rewarded for trawling through the previous ninety minutes of dull dialogue, predictable moments and a barrage of utterly superfluous scenes. It’s an aggravating ending to a frustrating ride.
The Stepfather is unnecessary. Dylan Walsh does a great job as the evil stepfather, but otherwise this is utterly pedestrian material, lacking tension, character or thrills. This is mostly pointless – please avoid.