The Stepfather (2009)


The Stepfather

Dylan Walsh has a point to make.

(Screen Gems) Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Sherry Stringfield, Jon Tenney, Paige Turco, Amber Heard, Nancy Linehan Charles, Braeden Lemasters. Directed by Nelson McCormick

Family is at the core of our value system. Everything we do, all of our decisions are made for the benefit of our family, at least so goes the theory. Of course, there are families and then again there are families.

David Harris (Walsh) wants a family in the worst way. He seems a nice enough man and when vulnerable divorcee Susan Harding (Ward) wanders into the grocery store he’s shopping at, they strike up a conversation, which leads to romance. David is a widower whose wife and daughter died in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, something that gets Susan’s nurturing instincts going into overdrive. Everyone, from the neighbors to Susan’s kids, think David is a heck of a guy.

The only one who doesn’t is Michael (Badgley), the eldest Harding. He’s been away at military school for some unspecified troublemaking and has just returned home. Something about David just doesn’t ring true to Michael, whether it’s the fact that David can’t get his daughter’s name straight or that he seems to have a creepy unnatural fascination for Michael’s girlfriend Kelly (Heard). Either way, Michael’s got his eyes on David and it isn’t long before he figures out the terrible truth.

You see, David is actually a serial killer (not a spoiler kids – this is revealed in the movie’s opening moments) who insinuates himself into a family, then butchers them when they don’t live up to his high standards of what a family should be. He also has no problems offing anyone who gets in his way, whether it is a nosy neighbor or Susan’s boorish ex (Tenney). It isn’t long before David begins to think it’s time to take care of his new family and find himself another.

This is the remake of a 1987 movie that starred Terry O’Quinn (John Locke of “Lost”) in the title role. That movie attained cult status after a mediocre theatrical run due to word of mouth video rentals, enough to spawn two sequels (one with O’Quinn and the other without). Invariably, this is going to be compared to the original.

The makers of the remake also were responsible for the Prom Night remake, which bodes ill for this one. Part of the problem is that they’re going for an entirely different audience; rather than hitting hardcore horror aficionados, they’re going for more of a teen audience, which means that they have to go for a PG-13 rating. That makes for bloodless horror, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but this is the kind of story that becomes more effective when you are a little more visceral.

While the cast is made up of broadcast and cable TV veterans, some very good (Walsh is excellent in “Nip/Tuck” while Tenney is a standout in “The Closer”) and some less so (Badgley in “Gossip Girl,” Turco in “The Agency”), Ward excels as the mom who is blinded to her new man’s darker side. Walsh does his best, but in the end he isn’t able to carry the role of the evil stepfather as well as O’Quinn did 20 years ago; in defense of Walsh, he isn’t exactly handed a whole lot to work with.

The results here is a movie that doesn’t really have the kind of cachet to interest teens, nor does it have the scares and the gore to capture a horror film fan. It therefore becomes neither fish nor fowl, satisfying neither audience. If I had any advice to hand out to the filmmakers, I’d tell them that when handed a horror movie, don’t hide behind terms like “psychological thriller” to justify your decisions; just go for the gusto and you’ll not only make a better movie, you’ll get more butts in theater seats as a reward.

WHY RENT THIS: The young cast certainly looks good in bathing suits.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Far too bland and bloodless for its own good, it’s a psychological thriller with few thrills.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some violence and a little bit of sex, as well as a few naughty words here and there. Mostly, the problem here is thematic and the images which can be pretty rough on the sensitive or the immature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The star of the original The Stepfather Terry O’Quinn was offered a cameo in the remake, but declined. 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray comes equipped with the Sony movieIQ feature that periodically puts pop ups of trivia and factoids related to the scene you’re watching or the general movie overall.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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New Releases for the Week of October 16, 2009


What could be wilder than to howl at the sunset with your pack?

What could be wilder than to howl at the sunset with your pack?

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

(Warner Brothers) Catherine Keener, Max Records, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forrest Whitaker. Directed by Spike Jonze

One of the most beloved children’s books of all time is brought to life by innovative director Spike Jonze, who has Adaptation and Being John Malkovich on his resume, along with some of the most visually arresting music videos of the past 20 years. This is the story of Max, a young boy who feels neglected and misunderstood at home, and thus runs away to the island where the Wild Things are. The Wild Things long for someone to lead them and Max is more than happy to fulfill that need, until he discovers that leadership – and being a Wild Thing – is a much more complicated endeavor than he thought it would be.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language)

The Boys are Back

(Miramax) Clive Owen, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser, George MacKay. When an Australian sportswriter’s wife dies suddenly, he is left with a young son to raise on his own. His life is further complicated when a teenaged son from a previous marriage joins the family. The father, who had left most of the child-raising to his wives, decides on a unique method that causes some friction with other parents, but allows his boys to heal and thrive.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual language and thematic elements)

Law Abiding Citizen

(Overture) Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney. When an upstanding family man’s wife and daughter are brutally murdered, the pain he goes through is nothing compared to what happens when the ambitious district attorney cuts a deal with one of the suspects to testify against the others in exchange for a lighter sentence. Ten years later, the suspect is found murdered and all the evidence points to the family man, who warns that unless the flawed justice system is fixed, all those connected with the trial will die. As he follows through on his threat, the district attorney races against time to protect his own family and stop this law abiding citizen from exacting his revenge.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language)

More Than a Game

(Lionsgate) LeBron James, Dru Joyce, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton. This is a documentary about a group of five guys from Akron, Ohio – talented basketball players all – who come from a background of great adversity. Through teamwork, friendship and their own remarkable skills, they come together on a journey to a state high school basketball championship. Their loyalty is tested when the spotlight begins to shine on future NBA superstar James, who becomes the most heralded high school player in the land. This uplifting story will be augmented by rare video, home movies and personal interviews that will illustrate the cost of excellence, and that nothing is impossible when the will is there.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for brief mild language and incidental smoking)

Paranormal Activity

(Paramount) Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Friedrichs, Ashley Palmer. Here’s a movie that benefitted from a unique marketing campaign; the trailer consisted of views of an audience watching the movie during a preview screening, and a website was created for moviegoers to vote as to whether the movie should be given a wide release. The vote came in affirmative, so this movie is getting a much wider release. It also helps that the movie is said to be genuinely scary. The premise is simple – a couple who believe their house might be haunted set up cameras to capture what goes on in their house while they are trying to sleep. The general consensus is that this is not for those who are easily disturbed or frightened.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language)

The Stepfather

(Screen Gems) Dylan Walsh, Penn Badgley, Sela Ward, Sherry Stringfield. A remake of the 1987 horror classic of the same name, a young man returns home from military school to find his mother co-habiting with a new boyfriend. Everything seems fine on the surface, but little things begin to crop up to make the young man suspicious of the new man in his mother’s life. As the facts begin to come to light, he realizes that this perfect stepfather may be hiding a darker side that could have deadly consequences for everyone the young man loves.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, mature thematic material and brief sensuality)

World’s Greatest Dad

(Magnolia) Robin Williams, Alexie Gilmore, Daryl Sabara, Michael Thomas Moore. In this movie directed by comic Bobcat Goldthwait, Williams plays a high school poetry teacher whose life hasn’t gone the way he envisioned it. His son is an insufferable prick, the beautiful woman he is dating refuses to publically acknowledge him and his career has stalled. A freak accident gives him the means to the fame and fortune he has always craved, but only if he can live with the circumstances under which he acquired them.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language, crude and sexual content, some drug use and disturbing images)