When Michael Harding (Penn Badgley, TV’s “Gossip Girl”) returns home from military school, he finds his mom is madly in love with her charming live-in boyfriend David (Dylan Walsh, TV’s “Nip/Tuck”). At first, David appears to be the ultimate nice guy and an ideal future husband and stepfather. But when Michael and his girlfriend (Amber Heard, Zombieland) start delving into David’s past, they begin to discover a dark and dangerous side to Michael’s new “daddy” in this riveting, chilling thriller.
The Stepfather is one of those movies that telegraphs its ending almost as soon as it starts; so, since we already know the destination, the only question involves whether or not we'll enjoy the journey. When we meet the guy who calls himself David Harris (Dylan Walsh, Dr. Sean McNamara in the Nip/Tuck TV series) during the opening credits, he's stepping over the bodies of the wife and kids he's just murdered, out the door and on his way to a new life. Sure enough, he's soon flirting with attractive divorcée Susan Harding (Sela Ward), and six months later they're engaged and living together with her three children, including prodigal son Michael (Penn Badgley), who has just returned from some kind of military reform school. It doesn't take long for Michael to begin suspecting that his stepfather-to-be is not all that he seems; Susan's sister, Jackie (Paige Turco), who hires David as a real estate agent, has her suspicions too, as does a cat-loving old neighbor. Only Susan remains clueless; then again, one of the many shortcomings of the movie, which was directed Nelson McCormick and written by J.S. Cardone, is its failure to adequately explain why she fell for this creep in the first place (we're often told how charming he is, but said charms are little in evidence). All that remains is to see how the tale will play itself out, and while McCormick supplies a few scary moments, he leaves no cliché unexplored (including Charlie Clouser's ominous, obvious music) on the way to the expected violent climax. In the end, one can only wonder why someone thought remaking The Stepfather was a good idea; the 1987 original offered both a much better explanation for the killer's motives and a significantly more compelling performance by Terry O'Quinn in the lead role. --Sam Graham
Stills from The Stepfather (Click for larger image)