US (dir. Nelson McCormick)
Cast: Penn Badgley, Dylan Walsh, Amber Heard, Sela Ward
Synopsis: A seemingly normal man wants the perfect family. When they don’t measure up, he eliminates them and moves on to find his next perfect family.
Review: I was initially quite curious about the prospect of a remake of the 1980s horror classic, “The Stepfather”, but was disappointed when I discovered that Nelson McCormick (director of the absolutely abysmal remake of “Prom Night”) would be directing it. Having made a film as fucking atrocious as the “Prom Night” remake, did I really think I could expect much from a remake of “The Stepfather”? No… but I was still willing to give it a shot even though I really didn’t think a remake of the (actually quite decent) original film was warranted. At least in the case of the “Prom Night” remake , the original film was pretty shitty to begin with, and pretty much begged to be remade – so I can understand Nelson McCormick’s will to try. However, 1987’s “The Stepfather” was good (damn good) and it didn’t really warrant a modernized remake at all. Therefore, it was with a mild amount, of what would soon become warranted, apprehension, that I watched “The Stepfather” in order to see what McCormick would do with the source material.
One of the initial things about this remake that bothered me was the fact that it was set in the present day, 2009. In the original film, it was somewhat feasible to have the Jerry Blake character move from family to family without any trace of his past following him because, hell, it was the mid-1980s, they didn’t have the infrastructure in place (i.e. the Internet, satellites, email, cell phones, digital cameras, DNA fingerprinting, etc.) that would make crime evasion possible. It’s just not fathomable to have a person so easily slip through the authorities fingers again and again and chalk it up to that person’s keen ability to avoid photographs, credit cards, and identification cards. In “The Stepfather” remake, the stepfather, David Harris, manages to slide into a new identity just by paying cash for everything and avoiding photos. Unrealistic, of course, because you’d figure somebody would eventually ask him for some sort of identification, especially in the year 2009, but apparently this only comes up a year after he has settled into his new life. It makes me wonder why they bothered to set this movie in 2009 anyways? Not every remake needs to be re-imagined/remade in the modern world. It would have been nice to see this set in the 1980s and have it stand out from the other modern remake updates. Unfortunately, this is too much to ask.
There is absolutely zero suspense in this film. Like the original, the remake starts off with the stepfather changing his appearance after murdering his step-family and heading off to find a new one. The problem in this film is that they don’t effectively lead the audience into caring if the stepfather goes off his rocker again and kills the new family (something the original seemed to have no problem doing). This film just drags out the stepfather’s pleasant and perky attitude, and then couples it with a few scenes of him standing around his house awkwardly in an attempt to build up “suspense” (a word McCormick should look up in the dictionary), make you cringe, and expect that he’ll be killing someone off soon (note to McCormick: I wasn’t cringing, and nor did I care whether the stepfather would kill anyone, because I’m already expecting him to anyways – try working a little harder to convince the audience that he’s a psychopath and try building up some suspense, m’kay?) Suspense isn’t built up by constantly showing the stepfather hanging around his house, or staring at his step children. Most suburban fathers naturally creep around their own homes in an awkward attempt to check on their children, make repairs to random shit, or contemplate how they came to live in the suburbs with a pack of spoiled, whiny children. McCormick’s attempt at making this seem like a sure sign of psychopathic behavior is a weak one, at best.
Another problem with the the attempt to build suspense in this movie is the presence of so many auxiliary characters who are so obviously set up as “ready to kill” characters for the stepfather to deal with. You know he can’t kill any of the step-children or the teenage step-child’s slutty girlfriend because there is the issue of the mother/the wife being in the way. And you know he can’t kill the mother/wife because she is essential to his influence over the family. Instead, there is a handful of characters that if killed, wouldn’t be missed, and they are basically there to allow the stepfather to at least kill somebody onscreen. These characters are quite obviously sitting ducks, and its not really much of a shocker when they get killed off either, so no luck with any suspenseful moments there, McCormick!
I wasn’t too thrilled that the heroine of the original film was replaced with a somewhat studly male hero character. It would have been so much more creepier and off the charts weird if they had kept the hero as a teenage girl because they could have explored the possibility of some sort of weird sexual tension between the stepfather and stepdaughter (yeah, I’m aware it sounds sick, but in the right hands, that kind of subliminal storyline would have really made the film that much more interesting and… here comes that word again… suspenseful). I guess in order to make the reason for the hero stepchild’s stint in military school and bad reputation plausible, they needed a guy (are we supposed to believe girls can’t be troubled teens?). However, I’m 99% sure the reason they made the hero stepchild a teenage boy was to provide him with the atypical, hotter than hell, horror movie girlfriend, who in this film is played by Amber Heard.
In all honesty, they should have just titled this movie “Amber Heard Walks Around in a Bikini for 101 Minutes” because that would essentially be the summation of her presence in this movie. It’s kind of embarrassing actually, especially after the fantastic “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” in which she doesn’t have to wear nothing to show off her body. In fact, here’s a montage of pictures detailing what I essentially gleaned from her character in “The Stepfather”, and what the director felt was more important to focus on than developing a build up of suspense or improving upon the original film:
In it’s defense, Dylan Walsh puts up a decent effort despite the limited range available to him in a PG-13 horror movie directed by a Michael Bay wannabe. The “who am I here” bit, which is pretty much the climax of the original film, is done some justice here, but the introductory scene is far less bloody than the original. What could have been a pretty intense ending where the stepfather uses a good old fashioned Home Depot style buzz saw suspended over the girlfriend, Kelly (in a shockingly rare bikini free scene), seems to have been significantly trimmed down despite it being one of the highlights of the trailer. Such a shame, really, because it actually was pretty scary! Maybe there’s a deleted scene or a… “director’s” cut… somewhere out there with that scene still intact. Guess it was too hardcore for a PG-13 horror movie.
As this wretched remake, along with the countless others I have seen and will see, proves, just because you could doesn’t mean you should. Don’t waste your time with this remake. Unless you are absolutely intent on seeing Amber Heard’s bikini clad body, avoid this and see something better.