Having never gone through the experience of having a stepfather, the likelihood of "my new dad" being a psychotic serial killer is rather low, but the possibility in general is intriguing. Of course, The Stepfather, about an obsessive guy who infiltrates families in search of the perfect family, isn't a psychological thriller - it isn't written to be so layered - but there is promise in the idea.
The Stepfather, a remake of the 1987 thriller of the same name, lacks the depth and intrigue that would take the concept to the next level, but the movie is surprisingly effective as a B-grade horror flick. There's nothing astounding about the movie and certainly not about its climax, which can be described as shockingly predictable and routine (and strangely like the ending of another routine 2009 thriller, the Beyonce muck Obsessed), and yet it works on a rudimentary level. In other words, it is what it is.
The movie stars Dylan Walsh as David Harris, a dashing, suave man who meets a divorcee (Sela Ward) one day at the grocery store. A whirlwind romance later, the two are engaged. And yet, as nice and perfect as he is, the woman's troubled teen son (Penn Badgley) begins to suspect that not all is right with the man. But the more he pries, the more the family becomes strained and, in response, David retaliates, putting them all at risk.
Screenwriter J.S. Cardone and director Nelson McCormick, who last conspired to do the terrible Prom Night remake, make the most of what's expected of them. They were hired to remake a standard horror thriller and they did what was asked of them, to results no less or worse than required. The actors turn in acceptable performances; Walsh is mildly creepy and Badgley holds his own as the main protagonist. Amber Heard, one of the best-looking actresses working today, also does a good job, if only that her job is to walk around in a bikini most of the time.
Beyond what's expected, though, there isn't a lot to the movie. It isn't scary or suspenseful, as you know how it'll end. Neither filmmaker, apparently, is capable of going above and beyond; none of the characters are well developed or carry any weight. The plot's progression works on a simplistic level, but could have been much better with more attention to detail and more unstable performance from Walsh.
The Stepfather is certainly watchable - Amber Heard in skimpy clothing helps - but some tweaks here and there could have made it a lot better. Recommended for those who want to waste a couple of hours but don't want to think too hard.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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