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Tuesday
Oct272009

The Stepfather

There is a brewing hatred for remakes across the movie landscape. Fans cry foul when their beloved memories are altered and filmmakers are troubled to see a new generation receive a watered down version of their work. Both should be equally upset over the newest remake, The Stepfather. The 1987 original was a surprisingly taut little thriller that effectively explored the emotional distress and psychosis of its antagonist. The remake is teen fodder toned down to a PG-13 rating to bring in crowds of delusional high school students who cannot separate quality from trash like this.

The film follows David Harris, played by Dylan Walsh of Nip/Tuck fame, a mentally unstable man who cherishes family, yet does not have one of his own. To compensate, he finds single mothers with children and marries them, placing himself into a false reality as the new father. However, when he becomes disappointed by their lack of togetherness, he murders them all, changes his identity and moves onto the next helpless family he can find. Eventually, he remarries a woman whose son has just arrived back from boarding school, an astute young kid who quickly realizes that something may be wrong with his new stepfather.

Terry O’Quinn, now most famous for his portrayal of John Locke on Lost, played the evil stepfather in the original film and he was outstanding. He blended menace and charm perfectly, to the point where you came to actually like him, though you knew something sinister was brewing beneath his superficial veneer. Walsh has the menace down pat, but he is missing the charm that is key to the character, though it may not be entirely his fault.

Every heartwarmingly appealing moment is accompanied by a brooding music to remind us how evil David is, which prevents us from taking a liking to him. It never allows us to cling onto the character and feel sympathy for him, despite his wicked ways.

The original recognized this conflicting emotion because it hinted at his troubled past as a child, perhaps explaining why he cherished the traditional family so much. The remake ignores it altogether. It doesn’t want to bother with back story. It just wants to work as a tightly wound thriller, but too many loose threads prevent that from happening.

In the 1987 film, the characters start to catch onto the stepfather through realistic, albeit slightly farfetched plot turns. In that movie, the brother of his previous wife is out to track him down and he has legitimate leads to do so. His perseverance and determination helped put a stop to him. Here, the characters catch on through arbitrary means that are brought up at the convenience of the screenplay rather than prudent timing.

As far as PG-13 horror remakes go, The Stepfather could be a lot worse. It never reaches that bottom of the barrel quality that abysmal films like One Missed Call or Prom Night do, but eventually you grow wearisome from its contrived scenarios and repeated scare tactics. If you really want to subject yourself to a mediocre remake full of plot conveniences and tired horror tropes, this is your best bet, but you would be doing yourself a favor by staying in and renting the original instead.

The Stepfather receives 1.5/5

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