The Stepfather review (DVD)

Why remake a horror movie? 1) The original was inexplicably popular and despite protests from fans that you shouldn't mess with a classic, those fans will be the first in line to watch and bitch about the film, thereby leaving you with a box office success. 2) The original had a great premise but was either executed poorly, leaving room for improvement, or executed brilliantly but for whatever reason, nobody ever saw it. 3) The original was filmed in a language other than English, and because people (read: Americans) are too stupid to follow the plot of a film unless somebody is standing in front of them speaking the words out loud, clever Hollywood types cash in and get real actual Americans to talk on screen.

So, for which of these reasons did Nelson McCormick decide to direct a remake of the 1987 thriller The Stepfather? Err, pass. Next question?  Never having watched the original, I shan't make an uninformed comparison between the two, telling you that the original was better and the remake was unnecessary and embarrassing. Even though it definitely was. I would bet my slippers on that.

The premise, which McCormick inevitably thought was worth breathing new life into, sounds alright. David Harris (Walsh) kills his family and then, on an innocent trip to the supermarket, meets Susan Harding (Ward), divorcee mother of three. The two hit it off and, by the time Susan's eldest son returns from military school, get engaged. David seems like the perfect man, but cracks start to appear in his cheerful facade and when he constantly refuses to provide the necessary paper work at his new job, everybody starts to get suspicious.

It sounds like a fairly average thriller (not really a horror as they seem to be billing it) with the potential to be pretty great with the right cast and the right balance between genuine scares and some classic mystery and suspense. That would have been good. The filmmakers are keen to suggest that the film has a Hitchcockian feel to it. Yes, perhaps if Hitchcock started directing a film and then got bored halfway through, allowing his niece to finish it, and then when she got bored she just rewrote a scene from Rear Window and hoped nobody would notice.

The film is dull, slow and disappointing. There is no mystery, because the opening scene tells us everything. He killed his family, changed his appearance a bit and moved to another town. Then, within around four minutes, he meets a new family and moves in. There are no prizes for guessing where this film is going.  You will spend the entire film waiting to hear more about David's backstory - why did he kill his family? How has he managed to get away with it for so long? But that backstory never comes. Essentially this is a halfhearted attempt at a horror film, into which somebody has forgotten to write the horror bit. Be warned, there will almost definitely be a sequel in which the same events will happen but in a different order and to different actors.
SECOND OPINION | Stuart O'Connor ?
?? As remakes go, The Stepfather is not all that bad. Walsh is terrific in the lead role – a nice blend of smarm and creepiness that really keeps you guessing when he'll snap. It's decently paced, the characters are reasonably well drawn ... and any film that has Amber Heard wearing nothing but a bikini for half her scenes is OK in my book. It's worth a look, but I'd recommend renting it rather than buying.

EXTRAS ★★★ An audio commentary with director McCormick and stars Walsh and Badgley; a 19-minute making-of featurette called Open House; an 11-minute featurette called Visualising the Stunts; a 4-minute gag reel; and a collection of trailers for other releases.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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