For most, gaining a stepfather comes with its difficulties - but in this remake of the 1987 film of the same name, for troubled teenager Michael Harding, it really is hell. Upon returning from military school, Michael discovers his mother engaged to 'David Harris' (Dylan Walsh), who everyone around him seems to have fallen in love with too. But, is he REALLY who he says he is? With the help of his girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard), he begins to investigate the family's new alpha male.
In contrast to the truckloads of identikit slasher flicks bombarding our screens, The Stepfather
gives a real sense of suspense building - reminiscent of 2007's Disturbia (Caruso). The premise behind the film plays on the belief that one's home is a place of safety, and the fact that this safe haven can be infiltrated by a killer is extremely unsettling. Incidentally, the film is based upon the true story of John List, who killed his family then disappeared - we discover 'David' has done this on multiple occasions, in his bid to find a family who don't 'disappoint' him.
Another difference to the common slasher movie, which are often ambiguous of the killer's identity, is that we know from the outset that 'David' is a killer - thanks to a particularly disturbing scene in which 'David', at the time going by the name Grady Edwards, prepares to leave his current residence. As he casually makes coffee and toast to the perfectly chosen sounds of Silent Night, the camera slowly tilts to a shot of a young boy sat at the kitchen table...a normal family scene...except that the boy is dead. The film's attention to small details, such as 'David' rearranging the children's toys before he leaves reinforces his psychotic persona.
Walsh plays the 'evil stepfather' perfectly, showing a happy, family man mask when he is interacting with the Hardings, but (with particular credit to the cinematography), when he turns away we see his face mutate into the monster he truly is. The opening revelation creates a high dramatic tension - we see the entire family (except Michael, that is) taken in by this stranger - and from this, we notice his little slips. The fine subtleties in his facial expressions and the build up of his anger and sociopathic nature creates a powerful tension.
The Stepfather is a truly disturbing movie - and McCormick, although having only one other feature film to his name (although extensive work in television), seems to have a knack for creating a movie that is suspenseful, disturbing, and actually genuinely scary - without resorting to blood, gore or cheap thrills.