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The West Wing
THE STEPFATHER, 2009
Michael Harding (Badgley) returns from military school to find his mother (Ward) living with her new boyfriend, David (Walsh). As the two men get to know each other, Michael becomes suspicious of the man in his mother's life: Is he really the man of her dreams, or could David be hiding a dark side?
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It's the he did it. He's going to do it again. And...
1) How does he do it?
The question of WHY he does it is never answered though. The Stepfather is a bit out of sorts and that's all they tell us. But I like to think audiences are more evolved these days and the question of WHY is the most important one. And if they don't answer it then we feel a tad unsatisfied.
The Stepfather is a 100 minute concept film and really nothing else. We never truly get to know any of the characters and just watch to see if anyone is going to figure out this guy's faults of wanting to kill people.
But I like to think the more we get to know the characters, the more we care about the story and the climax ending (not how you think it's going to end) is a whole lot more profound. Unfortunately in The Stepfather we don't care as much as we should be.
This is a Columbo in reverse type of story where in that 70s TV show we saw who did the murder in the first scene and watched to see how the detective will figure it out from his point of view. In The Stepfather, we see that he's a serial murderer at the beginning and watch to see if he'll succeed again in his next family from his point of view. A cool concept that's a complete 180 from most other thriller/mystery films.
But why does he kill families only? Why not other people? This is a question we never find out and I think we need to know this in order for us to follow his journey.
It's a cliche these days for people to blame the script for a movie not being as good as it should be. From my experience, that is true perhaps 1 out of 10 times as there are so many factors as to what makes a movie work. And many times the script is the best thing about the movie but it just doesn't get executed properly. When that happens, then the story changes in editing because certain scenes just don't work and then in the final product we have a completely different idea than the original script.
BUT, The Stepfather is a good case for a script not being as solid and ready as it should of been. From a filmmaker's and acting point of view, this is a nicely executed movie. Unfortunately there isn't enough spice in the soup so to speak and we get cliche after cliche situation while also never knowing who these people are.
The most interesting character in the film is Susan Harding (played by Sela Ward). On the surface she seems like a well adjusted person who is also a good mother. But she falls in love with a serial killer. We needed to understand why this happened. Was she lonely and desperate for any attention from a man? Or is our serial killer just a brilliant human being who understands how to manipulate smart people? Perhaps a bit of both but we never really got to know.
I look at The Stepfather as an exercise movie. An interesting concept in a popular genre for the under 25 generation and a way for the studio to give roles for the young actors they believe in (Penn Badgley, Amber Heard) and showcase their bodies (many skippy bathing suit scenes by the pool), plus their acting abilities. Nice way for them to practice and also get themselves on more talk shows to promote themselves.
And maybe the audience should treat this movies as an exercise film too. Not something you're rushing to see, but if it's on late at night and there's nothing else to do, then it's better than playing solitaire.