Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Stepfather (2009)

Who am I here?

"The Stepfather" is a mediocre film at best. We watch movies like "The Stepfather" for the suspense, the action, the attractive females, and the drama. This movie has all this and Dylan Walsh from TV's "Nip/Tuck". I must be watching too much "Criminal Minds," as I was working on a profile of Walsh's David Harris character the whole movie. The movie stars Sela Ward, a divorced mother with two pre-teen children and a boy nearing adulthood. TV star Penn Badgley, coupled with Amber Heard's bikini clad body round out the main cast.

David Harris's unknown childhood drives him to want the perfect family, if this does not work out, he kills the family, as seen in the opening of this film. Moving on to a new city, changing his looks, his name, and always paying in cash, David Harris finds himself looking for a new victim. Staking out a grocery store, looking for the perfect surrogate family, Harris comes across Susan Harding, played by the still extremely attractive Sela Ward, and her two pre-teen children. Seeing himself as the perfect father for this family, Harris introduces himself, turns on the charm and starts anew. Sometime later, Susan's oldest son Michael, played by Penn Badgley, returns from military school for the summer and the plot thickens, as they say. Unsure of his position in his family, Michael takes his time adjusting, lounging by the pool with girlfriend Kelly, played by Amber Heard. David's psychosis starts to surface when Michael's younger brother Sean, played by Braeden Lemasters, ignores his mother, and plays his video games too loudly. David grabs Sean by the neck and squeezes hard, scaring the kid into submission. After taking a job showing houses for Susan's sister Jackie, and doing well, Jackie asks for some personal identification for tax forms and David quits. David deals with these intrusions into his delusions the only way he seems to know how, violence. As you can guess, Michael catches on to David quickly and trouble soon ensues. From here on out, the rest is predictable.

I think Dylan Walsh's character, although incomplete, was the most developed. Walsh's creepy acting helped to counter-act the weak character development that the story's writers left him. When strangling the family's estranged father in the basement, I could see in Dylan's eyes, not anger but desperation, not evil, but fear. His glances, his hand gestures, his facial gestures all appear original and convincing. Sela Ward, on the other hand, plays her character way too trusting, a bit too naive, and less convincing as Walsh. Penn Badgley does a better job in staying on the fence about the stepfather. Michael seems to envision a happier, idealized family at first, willing to let go of the past and start anew. Perhaps the writers handed Badgley more character than they did the rest of the cast. In contrast, Amber Heard, plays a blonde in a bikini, no depth, no woman's intuition until it’s too late. Eye candy is all she is.

A good thing about this film is the pacing. The prologue is a series of quick cuts allowing the audience to form impressions rather than to take in fully the carnage. Slower shots as the location and main characters are lightly developed. I think director Nelson McCormick, realizing he was in trouble, reacts, by picking up the pace and shortens the scenes, compensating for a lack of story development. McCormick pauses, perhaps a bit too long on the pool scenes, to let the camera caress Amber Heard's supple body. Quick edits help keep the film's pace on track and the suspense building until the end of the movie, which comes blissfully faster. The other key ingredient for keeping this film moving and the suspense building is the music. Perhaps overdone on parts, however, this movie needed the overemphasis badly to keep the tension from fading.

I never quite came up with a great profile for this character, other than what appeared to be his basic need for a family. I could conjecture, that Edward was abused when he was a child, abandoned or neglected. The writers do not give any direct references to the Walsh's character's past. This is why I think this film falls into the mere slasher movie category and nothing more. Watch this movie only if you are looking for a cheap thrill, keep your expectations low and get close to your significant other.

Movie Data

Genre: Thriller
Year:   2009
Staring: Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Amber Heard
Director: Nelson McCormick
Producer(s)  Greg Mooradian, Mark Morgan, Jay Dykes
Written by: J.S. Cardone (screenplay), Donald E. Westlake
Rating:   PG-13

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