Blick Tolkien reviews The Stepfather

The Stepfather 101 min., 2009
Written by J.S. Cardone/Carolyn Starin/Brian Garfield/Donald E. Westlake
Directed by Nelson McCormick
Language: English
My rating: ★★

Respect your elders, because remakes suck!

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So we have a remake of another 80’s film franchise that (spoiler alert!), ends with a setup for an unneeded and unwanted sequel. There is a review of the original film from Lackey up on the site already, but I will cover the trilogy after this in sporadic installments. We have in the lead role Dylan Walsh, the co-star of the FX series Nip/Tuck, playing David Harris who is believable as a psycho but not as a father figure by any stretch of the imagination. It’s becoming a sad trend that these 80’s movie remakes start off strong and then fizzle out or completely shit the floor before, or during the second act. The Friday the 13th remake, Nightmare on Elm Street, and even Texas Chainsaw all start out grabbing you hard and holding you there, promising the ride of your life. Somewhere in the middle of all this, however, the acting gets stale, the plot becomes predictable, or the characters just make flat out stupid assed decisions for no real reason. Sadly, this movie suffers from all three.

Walsh actually gives an air of calm, even seaming almost Norman Bates like in the way he casually navigates his kitchen as the movie opens. It’s not long after that that you get the first shock of seeing a kid dead at the breakfast table. Even though the shots of the other children and his wife’s corpses spread sporadically throughout the house are predictable, they sort of seem to fit the scene and build a sense of anticipation. You’re getting and idea of just how detached the stepfather actually is from his reality. It shows off quite excellently how these families are as interchangeable as Legos. This actually got me interested to see what he would do with the part. I don’t think the shave he gave himself, ditching the contacts, or dyeing his hair a literal shade lighter was really going to fool anybody, unless you count people who are still having trouble understanding that Superman is just Clark Kent minus the glasses. The cops are actually on to this guy, and to see that they’ve been able to put two and two together, and link him to several other similar murders is actually pretty nice considering movies like this usually make cops out to be morons with guns. However, (big surprise!), they don’t have any pictures or evidence to go on so that they can apprehend him.

The rest of the film centers on his most recent family, the Hardings. Susan Harding, played by Sela Ward, whom you may remember from The Fugitive, or the show Once and Again, plays the mother of three. The two pre-teens seem to gravitate toward David without a problem, and the engagement goes off without a hitch, until that is her troubled teenage son comes back home from some type of disciplinary school. He has seemingly no interest in David until he’s consistently told not to ruin this for his mother. The problem I have is that all of this animosity between David and her son Michael starts before there is really a reason for it. Once he actually had legitimate reason further on in the film to fear or distrust David, he doesn’t really do anything about it. The reason for this seems to be the threat of him being sent back off to school. But honestly, considering what’s on the line here he should just throw caution to the wind, and actually out the guy, or at least confront him. Sadly enough Susan’s sister, Paige, who is a lesbian for no apparent reason, has her suspicions as well. The reason I bring up the lesbian thing, is that it was, in my opinion, an attempt to make the film feel less dated and to add a sense of a person coming from the standpoint of being in a happy, loving relationship. That was a nice thought and all, but the chemistry between Paige and her girlfriend Leah is non-existent. I mean they live together, and trade “I love you’s” in one scene, but other than that they could simply be roommates. It just seems like an unnecessary waste of film. I will give it to Dylan Walsh for his portrayal of a psycho. He plays a stone-faced killer to a tee, and in all honesty seems more like a sociopath. But if you’ve ever been in a romantic relationship with anyone before, the time you see him and his wife-to-be spend together seems stale, staged, and virtually emotionless. It’s hard to buy that any woman, no matter how desperate or lonely, would willingly choose to commit to someone like that for life. Once it finally gets down to brass tacks, and it’s time for him to wipe out his new family, he seems unable to seal the deal. It’s hard to believe he ends up foiled Scooby Doo style by some meddling kids, one of which is Michael’s girlfriend, Kelly, and an old woman who was previously drugged. Of course, they overcome him in the end and he disappears without a trace just to show up later rocking a mullet at a Wal-Mart in another town.

I’m sorely tempted to give this a skull. However, I’m going to stick with my rating, but only for two reasons. Reason number one: as sad as it is to say, the acting from the teenagers is actually a lot more believable than any of the other performances. For this to be a slasher flick, that’s actually pretty surprising. Reasons number two: is that it was able to effectively communicate the point of the film even if it didn’t communicate it in a believable way. For this to be Dylan Walsh’s first foray outside of television, I will say I’m more interested in seeing him on screen again, just not in a role like this that’s already been established by a notable actor. As woefully underwhelmed as I was, I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone see this film. Hopefully my review saved you some time, trouble, and a rental fee at the Redbox. Until next time, may all your films bring you fright.

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About Blick Tolkien

About Blick Tolkien: The bastard half brother of Zeb Carter, he grew up in Chicago's urban jungle, forced to be the victim of racial injustice and daily bullying until the day he saw Night of the Living Dead. the immersion into violence on film gave him the tools to externalize his hate and make the world a horror show for all his enemies. A card carrying member of the Black Panther party, he hates whitey and all forms of coonery including any and all Tyler Perry films. You have been warned. About Zeb Carter: The younger brother of Blick Tolkien, he used horror films as a way to open him self up to the social and story telling aspects of cinematic fear as well as his love of the silver screen. After seeing Gremlins at the drive in he was hooked. He also writes short fiction, has 2 daughters and a pack of animals that he is currently serves as the alpha male over. You can read his fiction at forums.drabblecast.org.
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One Response to Blick Tolkien reviews The Stepfather

  1. John Bruni says:

    As much as I like seeing dead kids, I didn’t like this movie all that much. I liked Dylan Walsh, but that’s about it. Anyway, to quote a great man: “Dead kids, they make a man feel almost hard. I go get one from the schoolyard. HE BLED LIKE A STUCK PIG!”

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