THE STEPFATHER (2009)

Best of all, David and Susan never even get married. Technically, The Stepfather is simply Mom’s Boyfriend.

I kept thinking it would be fun to watch the original version of The Stepfather as well as the remake, then do a little compare and contrast. Well, I was half right. The 1987 original is lots of fun, but watching the new version is kind of a chore.

This time around Dylan Walsh stars as the titular stepfather, David, a seemingly ordinary guy who prizes family above all else. After claiming to have lost his wife and daughter in an accident, he sets up housekeeping with the recently divorced Susan (Sela Ward) and her children. Of course we know that the loss of his previous family was no accident, that he murdered his wife and stepchildren, then left their bodies strewn around the house alongside the Christmas decorations.

Being the needy, lonely lady that she is, Susan sees nothing creepy about her new beau. If at times he seems secretive, overbearing, and old fashioned, she simply excuses it away. It’s not until her son Michael (Penn Badgely) returns home from military school that David’s true colors begin to show. From their very first encounter, it’s clear to Michael that David is one weird guy, and his suspicions only mount as time passes. Why did the crazy cat lady next door think she saw David on America’s Most Wanted? Why did David seem to forget the name of his own daughter? Maybe he does have something to hide.

Unfortunately, Michael has a troubled past of his own, and his girlfriend (Amber Heard) doesn’t want him to make waves, lest he should be sent back to military school. They spend endless afternoons in the pool so that she can parade around in her bikini, then they talk on the phone at night while she lays around in her underwear. It’s a shameless ploy to keep her out of actual clothes for most of the movie, and the fact that she dismisses Michael’s concerns so relentlessly is enough to give you a headache. They have this conversation for the bulk of the film-

Michael: I think David is weird.
Girlfriend: That doesn’t make him a killer.
Michael: Yeah, but my real dad is missing and the cat lady’s dead.
Girlfriend: Do you want to go back to military school and leave me here alone?
Michael: No, but David’s weird.

Those two spin their wheels while the death toll mounts. David predictably picks off anyone who suspects the truth, and we wait (with waning patience) for him to start in on his new family. When he finally does, it is only of passing interest to the audience. On the whole they’re just not very bright or compelling characters, as evidenced by the feeble showdown in the attic. One assumes it’s meant to be the film’s climax, but “laughingstock” might be a more appropriate term. Best of all, David and Susan never even get married. Technically, The Stepfather is simply Mom’s Boyfriend.

2009’s The Stepfather is utterly unremarkable as a stand-alone film, but knowing that the original is so much better only adds insult to injury. Not only was Terry O’Quinn scarier and more complex in the title role, there was far more at stake for the film’s savvy, independent heroine, Stephanie. The three children in the remake not only have each other, they still have their real father in thelr lives. As an only child still reeling from the death of her beloved father, Stephanie’s situation is far more moving. Even if her new stepfather were a saint, he would still be intruding on the perfect friendship she had with her mom. We have every reason to want her to prevail, and she does. Her attic showdown is refreshingly badass and unexpectedly triumphant. Perhaps it’s fitting that nothing much happens to the milquetoast Harding family – they live, David lives, and all they have in the end is a mess.

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