Directed by Nelson McCormick
After the most recent spate of tentpole slasher remakes like Friday the 13th, Halloween and soon A Nightmare on Elm Street, one has to wonder: who remembered The Stepfather long enough to want to do it again? A reboot of a bad popular film is one thing. But The Stepfather, based on a horrifyingly bland script by mystery writer Donald Westlake, is not just bad—it’s also a fairly obscure suburban-slasher, starring Terry O’Quinn as a sociopath obsessed with “traditional family values,” that great bastion of Reagan and Herbert Walker-era conservatives. The original is deadly serious and painfully shallow in its approach to critiquing the morals of its time. So why remake it now, sans context? That’s not a rhetorical question; I want answers, please.
Even without a good raison d’etre, whoever remembered The Stepfather long enough to consider it a potential money-maker should have hired somebody with at least enough love for it to make the new one a personal project. Sadly, such is not the way of the remake. Instead, TV director Nelson McCormick’s remake is a dopey and laughably wan piece of commercial hackwork that is only really impassioned about its product placement for Diet Pepsi and Just For Men hair dye. The rest of the film lacks resonance because it’s aimed at emo teens who resent their parents and secretly wish one of them was a serial killer, so that at least that part of their domestic life cohered to their fragile emotional mindsets. A large demographic, to be sure; lines around the block, guaranteed.
Dylan Walsh plays the murderous drifter who, for the duration of the film, goes by the name of David Harris. David seduces Susan (Sela Ward) in aisle six of the grocery store and poof, six months, later, they’re engaged. This doesn’t sit well with rising high school senior Michael (Penn Badgley), or at least, that’s what Susan and David assume. Though all signs in the film indicate Michael’s more likely pout in his room while listening to some lame-ass Cure cover band than mouth off to his mom, he’s supposed to be a troubled child, so at some point, he’s bound to disrespect David’s authoritah.
Nevertheless, because David thinks so, Michael is a threat to the family’s new-found equilibrium. David wants nothing to stand in the way of his perfect little homestead. He has simple needs: just a Normal Rockwell family version 2.0 that smiles, doesn’t talk back and doesn’t ask any questions about his homicidal past. Still, it warrants repeating: Michael really isn’t much of a threat until David goads him. All the kid does is sulk, make out with his anorexic, bikini-clad girlfriend (Amber Heard, almost never wearing pants) and take his shirt off to go swimming in his pool (he is one of the stars of Gossip Girl, after all). Eventually, he begins to take one of the many hints supplied by David’s suspicious behavior, including this key clincher: David refuses to let Michael photograph him on his Lightgood phone. An eerie sign of the times or lazy, manipulative writing? You decide!
Complaining that there’s no point to making a Stepfather remake is moot because there hasn’t been a good reason to remake any other slasher film yet, not even the passable new ones (Lookin’ at you, Rob Zombie). What warrants repeating is that films like The Stepfather dilute already rancid ideas with mediocre performances from pretty-looking people and genuinely unmemorable scare scenes heavy on fast-motion photography. In one form or another, even Jason Voorhees was never this charmless.