If Leave it to Beaver's Ward Cleaver stepped out of the small screen and into twenty-first century living rooms, he may be pretty surprised what he would probably see.
For, gone are the days of women serving meat and potato dinners in a dress, pearls, and heels and problems that could be solved in a two-minute discussion out of a half hour running time as moms have joined dads in the work force and sometimes kids end up nuking their dinners in the microwave.
Yet if Ward Cleaver somehow escaped through the television with a stop off on Showtime's Dexter that provided him with an actual cleaver and a personality switch, he may very well have wound up to become actor Dylan Walsh's would-be stepfather David in the 2009 remake of 1987's film by the same name.
Listed as one of "Bravo's 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time," the original Stepfather that was developed from a screenplay by revered crime writer and Grifters adapter Donald E. Westlake, contained such a chilling main character reveal that filmmaker Nelson McCormick couldn't help but include the same eerie approach.
Coolly going about his morning routine with a twist as he alters his appearance, we first encounter David in Utah as he carries on his fatherly ritual of a shave and coffee while stepping around the dead bodies of the family he'd most likely murdered the previous evening.
Boldly avoiding the mystery thriller paradigm of beginning with an inter-cut of protagonist introduction and crafting a taut whodunnit, The Stepfather illustrates both David's murderous habits and sociopathic tendencies right from the start.
We watch in shock while he preys on divorced, widowed or otherwise down-on-their luck women with children to boot with the hope of getting invited to play house as the new Ward Cleaver in a ridiculously idealized “king of the castle” system that's the male domestic equivalent of a female's “someday my prince will come,” happily ever after wish.
In fact, it takes several unsettling minutes for us to meet our protagonist Michael (Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley) who not only by the actor's admission serves as the audience stand-in but also is immediately at a disadvantage trust-wise because he returns home after time spent locked up in military school.
Although the handsome David rattles on in a so-cheesy-you-can't-help-but-crave-crackers style of the importance of family as though he was a demented Dr. Phil, Michael initially walks on eggshells around his mother (Sela Ward) and her new beau for fear he'll be sent away from his longtime girlfriend again.
Yet all pathetic obsession for perfection aside, when David begins slipping up in his back-story involving a deceased wife and daughter and an elderly busybody neighbor thinks she's seen him on America's Most Wanted, Michael becomes more vocal in his objections.
Since we have the benefit of privileged information regarding just how twisted David is, it's a bit irritating to suffer through some illogical twists and foolish out-of-character speeches and actions from Sela Ward's mother character and Michael's girlfriend respectively, we're nonetheless riveted throughout.
Admittedly, without the question mark surrounding David, the movie feels a bit more like a “1-2-3 make you jump” by the numbers audience jolt flick every now and then. Likewise, despite dialogue to the contrary, it appears that it's the girlfriend's job is to saunter around in skimpy attire for no real point other than to titillate.
However, when certain characters who begin growing suspicious get taken out in gruesome (yet thankfully PG-13 ways), it's still quite an exciting B-movie that provides some wicked scares during its roughly 105 minute running time.
Addictive enough to make you audibly challenge the characters not to walk into a certain room or to do something else instead, for a limited budget and largely one location thriller, it achieves a great feat with excellent craftsmanship in using ever square inch of the idyllic, cookie-cutter suburban home and backyard pool to surprisingly haunting effect.
While Walsh's role is the meatiest-- no pun intended-- and he's so good that the ending leaves the type of question mark for audiences that we were seeking beforehand, it's also really refreshing to see Badgley play something other than second fiddle to the lovely Blake Lively on Gossip Girl.
Although it's not in the same league as Disturbia which is still one of the best teen scream hrillers in the past several years, The Stepfather is much better than Domestic Disturbance or The Glass House.
Crisply transferred to Blu-ray with every creak and jolt intact both visually and audibly, through its dynamic choices to avoid the whodunnit plot-line or a far-too-over-the-top denouement, The Stepfather becomes a successful little creeper. Moreover, it ranks alongside last year's matinee level The Uninvited (an underrated remake of Tale of Two Sisters while still coming up short to the Disturbia of What Lies Beneath.
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Labels: Blu-ray Review