A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this thriller/horror remake of 1987's The Stepfather has plenty of tension, scares, and violence, though most of it is relatively bloodless. Three murders take place on screen (as well as fighting, attacks, etc.), and several other dead bodies are shown. Characters talk a lot about how families move on after divorce and loss, and there's some sensuality (a lot of kissing and skimpy swimsuits), underage drinking, and salty language. A supporting character is in a committed same-sex relationship. Also, this review is for the rated, theatrical version. There are unrated versions available.
What's the story?
A remake of the same-named 1987 cult classic (starring Lost's Terry O'Quinn), THE STEPFATHER follows David (Dylan Walsh), a man who finds broken families and insinuates himself into their lives in an effort to create a perfect, loving family. Unfortunately for the families he finds, deviations from his idea of "perfection" tend to result in him killing them and moving on to try again. The movie opens as he's leaving his latest failed attempt, only to make recent divorcee Susan (Sela Ward) his next target. Six months later, he's Susan's fiancee and is being introduced to her eldest son, Michael (Penn Badgley). As David tries frantically to keep his lies and tall tales from spinning out of control, Michael gets closer and closer to the truth ... and closer and closer to danger.
Is it any good?
The best thing about The Stepfather remake is still the central idea about a man trying to make the perfect family via a very unusual methodology. The second best is Walsh's performance, which veers between bland affability and ice-cold fury at the flick of a switch. Director Nelson McCormick (who previously remade another '80s chiller, Prom Night, far less notably) at least knows when to get out of the way of the story and his star and let them do the work.
Unfortunately, McCormick tries to have it both ways by keeping the scares in The Stepfather low-key and predictable (for example, Michael's younger siblings are ushered off-stage for thefilm's climax, kept ata distance from the peril and bloodshed) -- as if he were hedging his own bets. Badgley and co-star Amber Heard make a nice duo of slow-to-doubt teens, and Ward anchors the film with an optimism that turns to concern as the facade of her fiancee's perfection crumbles in the light of the facts. The Stepfather isn't incompetent, grimly clueless, or actively bad -- it's just unnecessary and more than a little unimpressive in the unique light of the original.
Talk to your kids about ...
What are the challenges that real families face whenmoving on after divorce and loss? Is any of what the on-screen familygoes through relatable?
Why do you think Hollywood is so fond of remaking horror movies? Whatmotivates them?
- In theaters: October 16, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: February 9, 2010
- Cast: Amber Heard, Dylan Walsh, Penn Badgley
- Director: Nelson McCormick
- Studio: Screen Gems
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, mature thematic material and brief sensuality
For kids who love thrills
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.