Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Thrillers The Stepfather (2009)

The Stepfather (2009)

The Stepfather | Thriller | rated PG-13 (A, V) | starring Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Pen Badgley, Amber Heard | 1:41 mins

After murdering his family David Harris (Dylan Walsh) promptly meets Susan Harding (Sela Ward) at the supermarket and his self-depricating charm and willingness to help soon finds him engaged to the divorced mother of 3. When son Michael (Pen Badgley) comes home from military school David sets about keeping his new family together, but as as pesky people start poking into his past and disrupting his picture perfect image he has to deal with them one way or another.

Like Terry O’Quinn in the original, Dylan Walsh is perfectly cast as the lead in The Stepfather. Anyone who was seen Nip/Tuck knows that Walsh’s Sean McNamera was a half step from pathetic psycho himself in his destructive desire to keep his family together. Walsh’s performance, his stride between nice guy you almost root for and a psycho whose entire personality is a lie goes a long way in making The Stepfather work.

I do love the premise of these movies, in either the original or this remake. The way it sees menace and dishonesty in the “Father Knows Best” cheesy image of fatherly behavior. Twisting male bonding, fatherly advice and ideas of striving for the perfect family into forbodding signals of horror movie insanity. I love the way, particularly in this version, they show David as a man who knows the rules and plays strictly by them to successfully woo women. His “charm” is to just side with women all the time, (they should get their way all the time and men are all pigs) and it works every time. There is a nice cynicism running through this movie that probably went unnoticed by the studio. It’s good here, but in the hands of someone even more clever this could have done for motifes of fatherhood what Killer Klowns from Outer Space did for clowns, circus tents, balloons and cotton candy.

Stepfather is not like the horror remakes we’ve seen lately that are both useless and contains pointless gender reversals so that the butt-kicking is all done by strong women. This Stepfather both makes itself relevant as a remake and mans itself up with the creation of the “prodigal son returning” storyline. Now we have a jockeying between David and immediately suspicious stepson Michael for the role of Man of the House. It’s too bad that “Gossip Girl’s” Badgley doesn’t have the acting chops to go toe to toe with Walsh enough to make for a formitable opponent. Instead he and the perennially sunbathing Amber Heard (damn) as his very affectionate girlfriend appear to be in a lower stakes movie. In fact, none of the performances here help support Walsh, with Sela Ward and everyone else approaching the material with all the realism of a Lifetime original movie.

Stepfather is divided into two distinct parts that work independently. The first half is deliciously evil fun as we follow David lying through his teeth and weaseling or killing his way out of one situation or another. Because we know he’s a murderer from the opening scene the goal of the film does not appear to be suspense, but campy cat-and-mouse fun. This section works like gangbusters. As Michael’s suspicion circles around what we already know he remains completely inactive with it all until the 3rd act when Stepfather leaps away from the original and stylistically recalls the Shia LaBeouf Hitchcockian remake Disturbia. The smoldering intensity of the original is amped up to a dark and story night family-wide battle. While the film is too empty to sustain any real suspense or intensity, it’s a lively and exciting climax that closes the movie on a satisfying note. But be warned, the best bit in the trailer is not in the movie.

Even though blood is cut for the PG-13, Stepfather is itself a charming, exciting, appropriately cheesy good time. It is a decent thriller but a worthy remake and in the end I wanted more theatrics and less TV movie. Dylan Walsh brought his A-game to this one, if only the rest of the cast and the movie had been on the same level it could have been really great.

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