out of Five
Running time: 105
Watchable, if frequently silly remake that succeeds in recreating the creepiness of the original but is ultimately let down by poor direction and a disappointing finale.
What's it all about?
Directed by Nelson McCormick, The Stepfather is a remake of a 1987 thriller that starred Terry O'Quinn. Penn Badgley stars as troubled teen Michael, who returns home from military school to discover that his mother (Sela Ward) is engaged to her new boyfriend, David (Dylan Walsh) and that his soon-to-be stepfather has moved into their family home.
Michael's younger brother and sister adore David but Michael becomes increasingly suspicious that he is hiding something. Sure enough, David is a serial murderer obsessed with creating the perfect family and he has a rather brutal way of wiping the slate clean when things go wrong.
The biggest change is the family dynamic – in the 1987 version, the family was just a mother and her teenage daughter, but here, the family includes a teenage son, his girlfriend (Amber Heard), two more children, an ex-husband (Jon Tenney) and a lesbian aunt (Paige Turco), largely so that David has more people to kill before the final reel.
That said, the remake faithfully recreates several scenes (particularly the chilling opening), lines and moments from the original film.
Walsh and Ward are both good, with Walsh largely underplaying O'Quinn's twitchy mentalism to good effect. The film also deserves points for having two lesbian characters without making a big deal out of it or even referring to them as lesbians.
Unfortunately, though it starts well, the film gets increasingly ridiculous as it goes along and not in a good way; for one thing, it completely ignores the two younger children and never puts them in danger, whilst McCormick's sloppy direction robs the murders of both believability and suspense. He also repeats his shock moments to the point of absurdity – you'll lose count of the number of times someone opens a door only to find David standing there.
Sadly for fans of the original, the remake lacks its gloriously gratuitous shower scene, though there is a swimming pool in the back garden to ensure that Heard spends the entire film in a succession of tiny bikinis.
The Stepfather is watchable enough in a good bad movie sort of way but the finale is disappointing and it fails to improve on the original film.