The Stepfather (2009) Review

Why do serial killers always strike in thunderstorms? In this remake of The Stepfather, David Harris (Dylan Walsh) seems perfectly normal for most of the film. He is kind, gentle, understanding, and caring to his new family, although granted the old one is not doing so well.

Through all of these scenes, it warm and sunny, enough to give reason for Kelly (Amber Heard) to waltz around the sets wearing skimpy bikinis and underwear, while boyfriend Michael (Penn Badgley) is constantly sans shirt to the delight of the other half of the audience. More importantly, David is content, but once that gloomy weather sets in, his detonator is triggered, and off we go into horror movie cliché land.

It is the only reasoning behind his actions, as the film fails to provide anything beyond the mysterious background and false names. Something had to trigger this guy to turn on his past wife and kids, murdering them for more than just a thunderstorm. Instead, this script loads up on the dull and inane, scenes of David trying to win trust, or scenes of people questioning David.

It grows old fast, especially with the negligent overuse of genre favorites such as the, “cat jumps from nowhere” or the personal favorite, “killer waiting outside the door to deliver a creepy glance.” Giving credit where it is due, the opening scene is chilling, David casually enjoying a sandwich while his previous family lies rotting around the house in their own blood. It establishes him as the cold nutball, but ruins the mystery as the new family tries to figure him out. We know he is the guy featured on America’s Most Wanted, so why hammer home the point?

All of this leads to the impossibly perfect step dad turning into the impossibly clumsy serial killer in the finale, where yes, everyone is actually dumb enough to pass the easy path to the outside door to turn for the attic. This is the point where horror movie fans lose interest and root for the killer, although that happened a bit earlier in Stepfather.

There, Jackie (Paige Turco) decides the patio umbrella blown into her pool is important enough to fetch it with a metal pole in a lightning storm. Had David waited long enough, he would not have needed to intervene, as Jackie would surely have become a Darwin Award candidate in no time. Apparently, now the audience is supposed to root for Mother Nature.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

Sony offers an AVC encode for Stepfather, one that is bright and crisp. The contrast runs hot, causing colors to fade and detail to drop. Black levels are deep, with some sporadic, generally inoffensive crush. Some mild softness, such as Michael’s face around 52:10 marker, is rare enough not to be an issue.

This Blu-ray effort excels with environmental detail, especially around the main house set where thick foliage is clearly defined even in distance shots. The deeply saturated greens and wonderful definition bring the set to life. The gorgeous blues of the backyard pool is a stunner. Flesh tones can appear pale dependent on the intensity of the light.

Textures, such as facial detail, rarely rise above average. Hair tends to be clear enough to reveal individual strands, and certain objects, such as beach towels, are capable of showing an easily identifiable texture or pattern. Also, the concrete around the pool in close-up, around 59:54, is spectacular. Fine grain is intact with no noticeable spikes, and the encode is clearly able to keep up.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Much of Stepfather is situated in the center as David turns himself into a perfect husband and father. Literally, nothing happens in terms of audio punch until the finale. A few heavy musical cues may marginally catch in the low-end, and a doorbell is evident in the rears during a brief visit to a neighbor, but dialogue is consistent in its volume and clarity.

The finale, with a loud, forceful thunderstorm, allows this DTS-HD effort to finally breathe. Rain hitting the top of the car Michael and Kelly sit in is effective in terms of ambiance. Incredibly loud thunder is aggressive on both the high and low ends, producing some mild scares when the film itself is unable to. Noises as people move around, such as when Jackie hears the umbrella tip over, clearly offer directionality and separation. Impressive, even if it takes a while to get there.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Director Nelson McCormick, joins actors Penn Badgley and Dylan Walsh in a commentary, followed by a typical but well made 20-minute making of titled Open House. Visualizing the Stunts is a featurette on the stunt actors and storyboard that led to the final product, followed by a funny gag reel that runs five minutes. Trailers, MovieIQ, and generic BD-Live support remain.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

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