In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb house jack

The House That Jack Built

Ultimately, it’s more of an inconsistent cry into the void than the conversation starter it could have been.

Thumb mule poster

The Mule

The Mule repeatedly spells out and hammers home its message about the importance of family, but it ultimately rings hollow.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb tvovw7qjj63zbqw5tz8cjpthaud

Schindler's List

This was published on June 24th, 2001, and we are republishing it in honor of the film's 25th anniversary rerelease."Schindler's List" is described as a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives

Reviews

The Stepfather

The Stepfather Movie Review
  |  

He's one of those guys with a bland smile and a voice so nice and sweet that right away you know he's twisted. He has a knack for convincing women to marry him, but children see him with clearer eyes, and know there's something wrong. There sure is. Battling inside of him are two conflicting obsessions: the desire to be the perfect father of a model family, and a towering rage that turns him into a killer.

"The Stepfather" tells his story in a blood-soaked thriller that is uneven but haunting. While I was watching the film, I was distracted by elements of the Idiot Plot Syndrome - moments when only an idiot would have made such obvious mistakes. Now, remembering the film several weeks after first seeing it, what I recall most clearly is the central performance by Terry O'Quinn.

Advertisement

He is a journeyman actor from TV and many movies, usually in supporting roles, and you may or may not recognize him. What's clear at once is that he is a strong actor, and given this leading role he brings all kinds of creepy dimensions to it. He has the thankless assignment of showing us a completely hateful, repellent character - and he approaches the task as an exercise in cloying middle-class good manners.

The stepfather seems to be such a nice man. So understanding. So accommodating. He always marries into families with children - providing a strong shoulder for a widow to lean on. He's handy around the house. He likes to spend time in his basement workshop, where sometimes the pressure builds up so intensely that he has to smash things.

He's obsessed with a vision of the perfect family. He wants each of his families to be perfect. When they disappoint him, as every family eventually will, he starts shopping around for his next family and his next identity. When he has that lined up, he murders this family.

"The Stepfather" is very effective in presenting that character.

Unfortunately, it places him inside a plot that has too many distracting loose ends and oversights, avoidable errors and Idiot Plot mistakes. Why did the movie have to be a thriller at all? Why not simply a character study? There were box-office considerations, I suppose, and yet the thriller aspects of the film are the least satisfying. It's distracting to sit in an audience and know that a movie character is doing something that makes no sense - and is doing it only so that the plot can move on to its next chapter.

Like many movies that study psychopathic killers ("Badlands," "In Cold Blood" (1968), even "Black Widow"), this film seems to have no larger purpose than simply to show us the killer. Because the murderer is mentally ill, because he is not killing out of any motive that we can understand, the film is simply an exercise in despair; a portrait of a tragic man.

Violence itself seems to sell at the box office, even when it's divorced from any context. Maybe that's what the filmmakers were thinking. What often happens, though, is that in an otherwise flawed film there are a couple of things that are wonderful. "The Stepfather" has one wonderful element: Terry O'Quinn's performance.

Advertisement

Popular Blog Posts

The Ten Best Films of 2018

The staff choices for the best films of 2018.

The Baffling Failure of Fallout 76

A review of Fallout 76.

Glenn Kenny's Top Ten Films of 2018

The ten best films of 2018, according to Glenn Kenny.

My problem with "Blue Velvet"

If you want to understand David Lynch, maybe the place to start is with his paintings. He paints in a style he descri...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus