Stepparents are often easy targets and this film does nothing to break this stereotype. Too bad Susan Harding (Sela Ward) doesn’t watch more movies because if she did, she might not be so trusting of the handsome guy she meets in the grocery store, The stranger proves to be as adept at wooing her as he is at calming down her two young children. Six months later she and David (Dylan Walsh) are engaged and it appears life couldn’t be better.
However, when her oldest son Michael (Penn Badgley) returns home after attending a military-style correctional school, the new father-to-be immediately raises his suspicions. Matters are made worse when the nice little old lady from across the street says Susan’s new beau looks just like a guy on America’s Most Wanted. Meanwhile Michael’s constantly-bikini-clad blonde girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard) says her boy is becoming too obsessive about his mom’s new pastime. But could David really be a killer?
Of course he is—and we know this due to an unfortunate artistic choice in the opening minutes of the film when we see David calmly munching a piece of toast while his previous wife and step-kids lie dead around the Christmas tree. Now we just have to wait about 90 minutes for the terror train to arrive at his new home. Trust me—it will be there right on time.
As predictable as this story is, its adolescent target audience (which renews itself about every five years) may be forgiving. After all, actors Penn Badgley and Amber Heard spend most of their time on screen half naked (they are either swimming, showering, or trying to have sex without the stepdad seeing them). It is unlikely though that this generous eye candy will pacify adult viewers who have undoubtedly seen before at least one or two movies just like this somewhat tedious romp.
Along with the depictions of teens engaging in pre-sexual activity (the characters of Michael and Kelly are high school seniors) are the more obvious content issues associated with a plot about a mad man who is not afraid to kill. Portrayals of violence are pervasive, with many of the deaths and attempted murders shown. While blood and gore are limited, the audience is privy to a woman meeting her demise after being thrown down a flight of stairs and smothered, a victim being held under water until drowned, along with another man who is attacked and asphyxiated with a plastic bag (their moans and struggles for breath are heard). Of course, there are also lots of fights, frights and impending moments of peril in this film that leaves the audience concerned about having faith in anyone—especially stepparents.
Lacking creativity and any redeeming messages, The Stepfather is at best a made-you-jump thriller, and at worst a continuing reinforcement that blended families are future horror stories.