...and yeah, that pretty much sums up how I feel too. This remake of The Stepfather is written and directed by the same guys behind the retread of Prom Night a couple years back, and I could probably stop the review right there. Take Terry O'Quinn's cacklingly awesome cult classic from 1987, neuter every last thing that was great about the flick until it starts to look like some Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?-grade Lifetime Original Movie, and you're somewhere in the ballpark.
There's all sorts of chatter in the extras about how The Stepfather is a psychological thriller. If you're suffered through enough of these sorts of flicks, you know that anytime a director or producer whips out the psychological card, the decoder ring spits out "slow and boring" afterwards. The original Stepfather was pretty damned suspenseful, and its stabs at violence were brutal and intense. The remake, meanwhile, flails around aimlessly on both counts. Even in this unrated director's cut, the movie's all but bloodless. The body count is incredibly low -- David's only diving into his third on-screen attack as the counter ticks past the 80 minutes mark -- and it's all incredibly tame stuff like a crystal vase to the head, pinched-nose suffocation, and a drowning in a swimming pool. The original kept the stack of bodies
Some of my favorite thrillers really do have a psychological bent -- they're just effective enough that the talent doesn't need to keep dropping the P-word in the extras -- but a lot of that's owed to a compelling cast, richly-drawn characters, and sharp direction. The Stepfather is a swing-and-a-miss on all three of those counts. Dylan Walsh doesn't exude any real sense of menace, not really selling the kind of deranged longing for a '50s-style nuclear family that Terry O'Quinn had in the original. Penn Badgley is too flat to make for much of a lead, and...well, it's pretty clear why Amber Heard is on the bill, spending something like 85% of her scenes either in a skimpy bikini or in her panties. Sela Ward's the only one of 'em with any real presence, and she's criminally underutilized. The Stepfather never manages to hammer out anything in the same voting district as tension or suspense. The setups are all standard issue, leaning on stock scares like a cat leaping into the frame, the audible-gasp! reflection in the mirror, and the sudden hand-on-the-shoulder bit. Hell, The Stepfather ends with the bad guy tumbling off the roof, only...he doesn't. This is a movie whose climax kicks off with a frantic search for a cell phone charger. Who cares? All of the subtext and dark satire from the original have been chucked out the driver's side window too. Plodding, artless, twentysomething minutes longer than it ought to be, and aggressively unoriginal, this is an overeager seventeen-year-old's first draft of a thriller. It's not the worst movie I've ever seen, and it didn't make me cringe and cower the way Prom Night did a couple years back, but that's about the closest thing to praise I can muster. Skip It.
Well, at least it looks nice enough. There really aren't any gripes to rattle off about The Stepfather's presentation in high-def: black levels are generally deep and inky, contrast is rock solid, the palette is somewhat cold and understated but rendered well (especially those eye-popping blues), and fine detail is consistently impressive throughout. Film grain remains unintrusive but doesn't show any signs of being digitally smeared away either; it all looks slick and convincingly filmic. (I do kind of wonder if Sela Ward was digitally sweetened, though...her skin looks unnaturally smooth in a lot of shots, but that shouldn't be chalked up as a flaw with the presentation or anything.) The only hiccup that leapt out at me is some nasty posturization during a fade-out a little over a half-hour into the flick, but it lasts just a second or two, and I kinda doubt that's a dealbreaker for anyone slogging through this review. This is pretty much what you'd expect for a studio flick that finished making the rounds in theaters just a couple months back, and I mean that in a good way.
The Stepfather's AVC encode spills over into the second layer of this BD-50 disc, and the image is letterboxed to preserve its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1.
The six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio track is awfully timid for a thriller. There are a couple of megaton stings punctuating the jump scares, sure, but other than that...? Not much. The Stepfather never latches onto the multichannel setup to ratchet up the tension, instead reserving them for really light atmosphere: a buzzing light in the basement, chirping crickets, a ringing doorbell, and the pitter of raindrops on Kelly's car. Sometimes the surrounds will briefly kick in during the action, like a shower curtain being ripped off the rings, but it doesn't amount to much. Bass response is robust when called for -- the thud of an old biddy tumbling down the stairs and some cracks of thunder -- but all of that's pretty sparse too. There are a couple of moments when the film's dialogue seems to be dialed a touch too low in the mix, but a couple of might've-been-menacing lines in the climax sound really far off. Even the forgettably bland rock soundtrack limps around lifelessly. The Stepfather is perfectly listenable on Blu-ray, but I'll admit to being surprised by just how subdued the whole thing is.
The Stepfather also piles on DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks in French and Portuguese. The Spanish-speaking crowd is stuck with a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub; guess Brazil and Portugal are more on the audiophile end of things. Subtitles are served up in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The Stepfather sports one of Sony's
The Final Word
This lazy, lifeless retread of The Stepfather veers sharply away from everything that made the original with Terry O'Quinn such a cult classic. C'mon, this is nothing more than a glossier take on a Lifetime Original Movie. Skip It.