The Stepfather (2009)
Directed by Nelson McCormick Screenplay by J.S. Cardone
If this duo sounds familiar it’s because they were recent victims of my “Reel O Death” with the film Prom Night. While at best one of those “I’ll watch it once to say I have” kind of things, The Stepfather let the two congeal ever so nicely. I’d also have to state that this film is categorized as a mystery/thriller. The reason for the slight irritation coming with that statement being that glancing through several other reviews, the consensus was how non-horror this “horror” movie is. But it’s not a Horror Movie! So it upset my inner movie nerd that the most anyone would say on the matter was “oh, you don’t know anything scary is going to happen until you hear the creepy music” or “It was too much like a lifetime movie.” So I had to take another look at this and see where all this opposition was coming from.
I will be honest in that I have not seen the original so I will not have that to go off of. I’ll purely intake this film for exactly how it was shown in this 2009 version. To touch on what was stated earlier; I do think this film should be viewed differently because it is mystery/thriller and not horror. Of course it’s not going to have the same in your face moments. Of course the music is going to ease in before something jumps out at you. That’s what those types of movies do; they feel real and don’t measure itself against how much blood they can spilled. If those happen to be the kinds of movies you like then I have no idea what drew you to this movie to begin with.
Moving on, the movie opens up showcasing a normal enough suburban neighborhood. We are shown a house with pleasant Christmas music playing in the background, panning to Dylan Walsh appearing to be changing his appearance in just the slightest. A trim here, taking out a contact there and voila! A new man. For those of you who are not familiar with Walsh, he is known as the most notorious and world-renowned surgeon, Dr. Sean McNamara in the series Nip/Tuck. Of which Walsh was greatly to thank for a terrific series, hardly having to prepare for this role having spent seven years perfecting the dysfunctional father figure.
Gathering his items and preparing to leave the house, the camera gradually displays bodies appearing around the house knowing more or less where this is going to go. David arrives in a new town and goes grocery shopping where he encounters Susan Harding and two of her three children. Interjecting in their conversation ever so timidly, letting his presence known. Making sure to “accidently” run into Susan a few more times before leaving, exchanging numbers in the parking lot claiming to usual not being so easy. Flash forward 6 months (because the semantics to that time are not needed) to Susan’s eldest son Michael (Penn Badgley) finally getting out of military school in time for senior year.
From that point the story involves David trying to take over as father figure and getting caught up in not being able to control every situation thrown in his way. Like when the nosy neighbor comes by to mention how Susan’s new fiance resembled a man seen on America’s Most Wanted. Then Susan’s sister (Jackie Kerns), who you may remember as April O’Neill from the second and third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, starts to become suspicious the more she gets to know him. Reality starts in set in and David’s paranoia begins emerging in ways he’s all too familiar with and he gets rid of three of the main people questioning his identity. Walsh transitions his charming ways for a subtle eeriness that creeps up on you and delivers until the very end.
Sela Ward plays the silly mother vouching for David’s character all throughout. She played the middle-aged, insecure “annoying Lifetime mom” in that her argument against “What do you even know about this guy?” was “I know he’s not sleeping with his secretary.” Even after the possibility of this new guy putting his hands around her son’s neck she still defended him. Wards history in cinema revolves around her roles in several if not the majority of television series. It’s really no wonder they would cast her if that’s the type they were going for. Now, it’s been some time since I have seen a movie on that channel, but they surely were in no way relatable…I mean, really?
Another thing I kept seeing was how Amber Heard, Badgley’s girlfriend in the film had no character development. She was simply the typical can barely act, half-dressed girl for the flick. Duh guys, come on! I mean, you don’t see anyone asking for Jessica Nigri’s “character development” but that doesn’t stop her from doing the same thing on the daily. Heard is sexy and cute, thankfully so it’s not such a painful thing to have to view. Anyone who says differently is just jealous. Her role being MAYBE, the 5th or 6th most important person, why should there be character development there? If anything she tried to be the sane voice in Michael’s head. As far as Badgley, he gave what you might figure as the pseudo-reformed bad boy who deep down just wanted to be loved by mommy and daddy. The reason the cast worked so well was because the roles were nothing that had to be forced. They were all believable and acted accordingly. I even liked Jackie Kerns performance and how she couldn’t shake the O’Neill role. Using her former “detective skills” to try to discover the truth about David. Overall the movie was well written and directed, had a great cast and while may not have been overly in your face, was still able to entertain while getting in a slight fright or two.