Despite being a genre that’s wide open to all kinds of twists and turns, it seems horror films are never anything more than mediocre cash-ins half the time. Very rarely do you get a film genuinely worthwhile and whenever one starts to come down the pike, it’s easy to get excited for what it could possibly be. Especially in the case of The Stepfather which promised to be a modern-day remake of the 1987 film of the same name. Sure it’s been twenty some years since the original came out, but since original horror films don’t seem to fare as well, it was time to scrape that barrel once again.
When Michael Harding (Penn Badgley, TV’s “Gossip Girl”) returns home from military school, he finds his mom is madly in love with her charming live-in boyfriend David (Dylan Walsh, TV’s “Nip/Tuck”). At first, David appears to be the ultimate nice guy and an ideal future husband and stepfather. But when Michael and his girlfriend (Amber Heard, Zombieland) start delving into David’s past, they begin to discover a dark and dangerous side to Michael’s new “daddy” in this riveting, chilling thriller.
Maybe it’s because I knew going into this film with an ominous title like The Stepfather that I knew Walsh’s character would eventually end up murdering people. I don’t know, there just wasn’t anything really tension filled about this film to really stir up ones heartbeat. I’ve never seen the original film this one was based off of, but I found Disturbia to be a lot more suspenseful than this film, which really is quite a shame because I like Walsh as an actor and the rest of the cast holds their own in each of their respective roles. It’s certainly not a blockbuster cast, but it certainly looked like one that would be entertaining enough…but sadly, no dice.
The film lasted a scant 102 minutes, so there was little time to build up our cast before we delved into the “suspenseful” area that was the mystery of who this new would-be step-father of Michael’s. People begin to die off and even though this is an unrated film, since it’s stemming from an original PG-13 cut the gore level is greatly cut down. So if you watch horror films for gore, then you will have that element removed from this film as it just simply wasn’t cut out to drip buckets over the screen. Sure, there is some bloodshed, but it’s not nearly the level of torture porn that the genre has become accustomed to. There’s also no nudity, so that’s two elements this film is without. Which, honestly, I’m fine with; I love gore and whatnot, but not everything needs it so it just means that the film has to focus its efforts into the story more intently.
And…well, that’s the films problem. The story is predictable and just lazy in execution. There’s nothing engaging about it and as charming as Dylan Walsh’s role is before the “bad guy” starts to come out, it’s just not surprising in the least. You know its coming and whatever suspense there was supposed to be is non-existent. Apparently the original had a rather twisted/unique sense of humor in addition to the suspense, but this re-make features neither of those positive-sounding elements.
I really did enjoy the cast, but in the end the production is just lifeless. It was definitely capable of doing more, but I guess these type of films are just made for a quick buck so there’s no real reason to sink a bunch of money into the story when it’s going to end up making a fair profit in theaters as is (the $20 million budgeted film made $29 million domestically…plus millions more undoubtedly from the DVD and Blu-ray sales). As is this is worth a Rental only for fans of the genre; there are some redeeming elements to be found here that fans might enjoy…but for some inexplicable reason the trailer scene with the buzzsaw, which was apparently cut from the film to obtain a PG-13 rating, wasn’t included in the unrated version either (that makes total sense) so even if you think the film looks cool from the trailer based on that scene alone…well, surprise! It’s still not there!
Sony pushes The Stepfather out on Blu-ray in a single disc Elite Blu-ray case with nothing else than a double-sided jacket, an insert advertising the format and disc art that mimics the shot of Walsh standing at the top of the stairs as shown on the cover art (and repeated on the back cover as well…they clearly sunk a lot of money into that shot to have used it so much). Menus are simple and easy to navigate and the overall appearance of the film looks great.
Sony delivers the inevitable goods with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer. Flawless could be a word used to describe the transfer and I’d fully endorse the use of it here would it not be for one thing: the black levels. For the most part the levels are stable throughout the film, but some of the darker scenes in particular look more charcoal-like than a pure, deep black. Perhaps it was a conscious choice to do that, I don’t know—I just know that while my TV may not be capable of pushing out the deepest blacks, it definitely is capable of going darker than the levels did in this transfer. Overall it’s a really brilliant transfer that just oozes detail with every single frame (whether it be a shot of Walsh in a particularly texture-laden suit or the shot of Amber Heard in her underwear in her bedroom, which had detail popping off everything from her clothing to the bed sheets to the walls that surrounded her), but it isn’t quite flawless…just very, very, close.
Audio is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and it’s about as satisfactory as the video mix, although I have to say that it was really a lot less spread out than I’d hoped. There was surround usage in more than a few instances, but it just didn’t feel as alive as you’d expect from a film with a frantic finale that is backed up by a stormy setting. It’s got some rumbles and thunder cracks in the distance, but like the film I suppose the track could have had a bit more life behind it.
Gag Reel (4:52, SD)
Commentary with Penn Badgley, Dylan Walsh and Director Nelson McCormick
Open House: Making the Film (20:12, 1080p)
Visualizing the Stunts (11:35, 1080p)
If you enjoyed the film at all then the commentary would be a great place to start to further your enjoyment of it. The track goes through the paces and even tackles scenes that were inspired by/stolen from the original film and then carries on with the visual effects and…all that fun stuff. Walsh’s inclusion helps keep the track from being a total production-focused fest, as he provides insight into what he went through to bring his character to the screen. The Gag Reel is easily forgettable and the two featurettes are pretty EPK-y in nature but with a tiny bit more depth than you’d get from those pieces typically.
Overall it’s a decent package but still only worth a Rental.
The Stepfather: Unrated is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.