October 16, 2009
Dylan Walsh as David Harris
Sela Ward as Susan Harding
Penn Badgley as Michael Harding
Amber Heard as Kelly Porter
By Horror Queen
Our main character has decided to leave his family at Christmastime and is preparing to start anew – new town, new look, new wife and children. We all have to move on, after all. The problem is he brutally murdered his former family and fled the crime scene. Not fled really, but meticulously applied his disguise before settling in for a peanut butter sandwich while ‘Silent Night’ played in the background, all while his dead family lied about the living room and kitchen.
The beauty of the stepfather’s psyche in both Joseph Ruben’s original film and this version by Nelson McCormick, is that he is in fact very ‘proper’ in his speech and actions, up until those around him disappoint and he ultimately loses control. Then watch out. The new stepfather however, is not quite as convincing as his 80’s counterpart. We don’t feel David’s desire for a happy home, and we don’t see a gradual unraveling of his nerves. He’s pretty much a jerk from the start and we wonder what Susan, a seemingly together single mom played by Sela Ward, sees in him. He’s weird, doesn’t have a job and smacks her kids around. Also for a calculating psychotic killer David’s actually pretty dumb. Case in point his first time alone with Susan’s son Michael and he gives two different names for his former daughter (supposedly killed in a car accident along with his wife), practically in the same sentence. Hint: know your lies, putz.
As time goes on, Michael’s the one who starts to uncover more and more of David’s lies (it’s not that hard). The problem is no one believes him, not even his girlfriend. So David looks like a police sketch from America’s Most Wanted. So he mixes up the names of his deceased children. So he mysteriously knows details about how a nosey neighbor died. Michael gets nothing but doubt and dismissiveness from those around him. And when David catches on to his new son’s suspicions he threatens to send him back to military school (life was probably easier there anyway).
But when David (finally) gets a job working as a real estate agent with Susan’s friend Jackie, she too grows suspicious of him. For some reason he won’t fill out any personnel paperwork. Hint: try a ‘cash under the table’ job, genius.
In the original film, it was compelling to watch the stepfather’s transition from working hard to be a good husband and father, to being disappointed by his family’s imperfections, to acting out with psychotic rage. In this version, there’s really no such transition. David’s a freak from the get go.
Solid performances by everyone in the film yes, but nothing compared to that of Terry O’Quin and the original The Stepfather.