Like its insane papa-via-marriage, Nelson McCormick’s The Stepfather remake is a shabby substitute for its original. As before, this thriller focuses on a paternal psychopath in search of the perfect family to call his own, and commences with the sight of said nutjob, David Harris (Dylan Walsh), methodically shaving away his beard before leaving a cozy suburban home littered with the corpses of his wife and stepchildren. Given the proceedings’ PG-13 rating, a lack of bloodshed at this gruesome crime scene is predictable, though otherwise, director McCormick doesn’t so much tame the violence of his 1987 predecessor (which wasn’t a splatterfest to begin with) as simply retrofit it with a modern cinematographic sheen, ample shots of Amber Heard in bikinis, and jarring musical cues for the myriad times David suddenly appears behind people’s backs or on the other side of doors. Fidelity to its source material and a patience not usually found in mainstream horror means that this do-over is a functional facsimile in the most basic terms, even if tension rarely rises to a simmer as David ingratiates himself into Susan Harding’s (Sela Ward) clan and, in doing so, arouses the suspicions of her son Michael (Gossip Girl mannequin Penn Badgley), recently home from military school. Working from Prom Night scribe J.S. Cardone’s screenplay, director McCormick shrewdly mimics his precursor by not explaining the reasons for David’s madness. Still, despite this absence of psychoanalysis, the initial Stepfather‘s Daddy Dearest nonetheless resonated as a twisted reflection of his era, both with regard to the rise of divorce rates and Ronald Reagan’s ‘50s-inspired Morning in America agenda. Divorced from its original time frame, this new version slowly develops schizophrenia, with current technology (cellphones, video chats, the Internet) factoring heavily into a plot that—though set in an identity theft age—somehow boasts multiple characters who are willfully undisturbed by David’s lack of photo ID, social security number, and credit cards. Not to mention that, devoid of context for his behavior, David’s lunatic obsession with “old-fashioned” family values proves not terrifying as much as random and, consequently, just plain ridiculous.
- Screen Gems
- 101 min
- Nelson McCormick
- J.S. Cardone
- Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Amber Heard, Sherry Stringfield
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: