From the brilliant minds that brought us 2008’s “brilliant” remake of “Prom Night” comes another 1980s horror-film retread that should have gone straight to DVD. Nelson McCormack’s update of “The Stepfather” lacks the original film’s creativity and satirical tone, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. While this new “Stepfather” is ostensibly a tale about the disconnect and tension between stepfather and stepfamily, the bigger conflict arises between the film’s interesting premise and its completely dull, illogical, lifeless execution.
Actor Dylan Walsh, who plays an interesting kind of slasher in FX’s “Nip/Tuck,” stars as the titular stepfather, David Harris, whose M.O. is hooking up with divorcees and widows in hopes of creating his idealized, perfect family. However, at the first sign of domestic trouble, he vents his frustration by killing the adopted family that has disappointed him. Overall, not a terrible premise. The problem arises in that all of this is revealed in the first five minutes.
And those first five minutes might just be the best five minutes this film has to offer: It’s a very unconventional Christmas scene, in which the wrapping paper remains intact, while the recipients get torn apart. The film suffers from revealing too much too fast, and as Harris moves on to his next family – the family that absorbs the majority of the film’s screen time – we already know what’s coming.
But even then, is the film completely unsalvageable? After all, “American Psycho” reveals very early on that its protagonist is fucked up beyond belief, yet it still manages to hold the viewers interest by shifting the focus to the character’s psychology and using satire to shed light on his motivations. But then again, “American Psycho” was crafted by a competent writer and a competent director, something this film sorely lacks.
Instead, “The Stepfather” still tries to pretend that it has secrets and surprises for us. It neglects the interesting aspects of Harris’s character in favor of plot “twists” that have already been spelled out. It tries to play like a thriller, when it would have been more effective as a character study.
This isn’t even the kind of film that’s so bad it’s good: Its stubborn mediocrity will not make this film a cult classic like the film it was based on. In exploiting a preexisting story for financial gain in a popular film genre, the producers have succeeded in giving us the bare minimum, nothing deplorably bad, but also nothing really – or even remotely – worthwhile. To put it in I.V. terms, “The Stepfather” is like the last shot before a blackout: It’ll go down but don’t expect to remember it.