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Blended families can be awkward.
Kids have to get used to a new parent. Parents have to get used to new kids. And then there can be myriad other issues to tackle—from whether spanking’s acceptable to the "right" way to decorate a Christmas tree.
And, well, if the new family member happens to be a homicidal serial killer, that just makes the whole scenario even more ticklish.
Which brings us to the case of David Harris, who’s preparing to be a stepfather. It’s a role he’s quite familiar with: He meets a woman, marries her, ingratiates himself to the children and then, when he decides it’s time to move on, kills them. The last time he did so was in Salt Lake City, stabbing his wife and three stepchildren to death sometime around Christmas.
Now he’s starting fresh in Oregon. He meets Susan there—in the cookie aisle of the local grocery store—charms her into asking him out and, a mere six months later, they’re living together and picking out floral arrangements for their impending wedding.
Susan’s two youngest children seem OK with the new arrangement—at least at first. Oh, sure, there was that little issue of David nearly choking little Sean because the volume on his video game system was too loud. But that, David explains, was really a misunderstanding.
Susan’s oldest son, Michael, on the other hand, is not so easily charmed. Just back from military school (where he was sent for lying and cheating and getting really, really angry), Michael’s a little more wary of his stepfather-to-be.
Why, for instance, would David tell him that his only daughter, Michelle, was killed in a car accident, and five minutes later mention that his only daughter, Lisa, would’ve been 11 this year? What’s with all the padlocks on the cabinets in the basement? And why did that nosy Mrs. Cutter say she had seen David on America’s Most Wanted?
And speaking of Mrs. Cutter, why was she found dead in her basement just a day after the aforementioned reference to a show about dangerous criminals who are still on the loose?
David’s "new" family is hardly perfect. Susan’s divorce was rocky, and the lingering hurt is still palpable. But everyone in the family is trying to make the best of things as they work together to create a loving home.
We briefly see a nativity scene in David’s old house while "Silent Night" plays in the background. Susan tells her sister that David wants a church wedding. When the sister asks incredulously whether she even knows what religion David is, Susan blurts, "I don’t care what g‑‑d‑‑n religion he is."
I have to presume that Michael’s girlfriend, Kelly, is a social activist concerned with overburdened workers in the textile industry. Why? Because her clothes are miniscule, and her wardrobe consists almost entirely of string bikinis. We see her lounging about in her underwear and parading in short-shorts, too. But her bikinis are the main thing, and they get a lot of screen time.
Michael is appreciative of Kelly’s attire (or lack thereof), telling her at one point how much he enjoys looking at her. "That’s why we make a good couple," she replies. "Because I like you looking at me, too."
Looking isn’t all they do. Kelly and Michael are, for much of the film, as intertwined with each other as Christmas lights on a tree. They kiss, embrace and wriggle around on Michael’s bed—all, apparently, with the tacit approval of Michael’s mother. When David objects to their level of intimacy, Susan gently tells him he should stop being "so old fashioned."
David and Susan, though, don’t have much room to talk. As noted, David moves in with Susan and the fam months before the two tie the knot. David kisses Susan frequently and, when they get more intimate in bed, Michael throws on his earphones so he can’t hear their giggling.
Susan’s sister is apparently a lesbian. She and a woman she’s living with say "I love you," and the two plan a trip to a tropical paradise. We briefly see the bare back of one of them.
Michael, incidentally, walks around quite a bit without a shirt. And Kelly tries to get his attention at one point by telling him she’s sexually involved with another guy.
Choking Sean was really just the beginning for David. After he learns that Mrs. Cutter suspects him, David breaks into her house and throws the poor old woman down her basement stairs, then suffocates her.
When Michael’s biological father also grows suspicious, David smashes a vase over his head, drags him down into David’s own basement, throws a plastic bag over his head and suffocates him, too. He then stores the dead body in a freezer that, apparently, no one else ever opens.
From there, people brandish knives (a lot), fall through ceilings, fall off roofs, drown in pools, break windows, use crowbars, get stabbed in the neck with glass shards and threaten victims with radial saws.
Crude or Profane Language
Six s-words. God’s name is abused about a dozen times (and paired six times with "d‑‑n"), while Jesus’ name is misused once. Other profanities include "a‑‑," "b‑‑tard" and "h‑‑‑." We see one obscene hand gesture.
Drug and Alcohol Content
David offers Michael a shot of tequila when they first meet. Michael—in high school and therefore underage—accepts and swigs it down, though it doesn’t look as if he enjoys it. Other adult characters drink wine, beer and cocktails as well.
Other Negative Elements
David—which, no surprise, is not his real name—lies pretty much continually to cover his tracks. That includes going to incredible lengths to avoid giving out personal information that could identify him. When his boss asks him to fill out some standard HR forms, for example, he quits. He even goes so far as to delete a picture of himself from Michael’s cell phone.
Speaking of Michael, the teen’s relationship with his mother is often strained. He doesn’t always treat her with respect, such as when he tunes her out with a pair of earphones.
It’s clear that Susan’s marriage failed because neither she nor Michael’s dad made much effort to get along.
David, titular character in The Stepfather, shares a lot of commonalities with the movie he stars in.
The film shows up, invites you in and tells you everything will be fine. Then—just when you’re getting cozy in your seat with your ultra-sized soda and Milk Duds—it starts hammering you with problematic content.
Sexual content? Sure. We have our share of skimpily-clad women, here. And sexual activity is implied (if not gratuitously portrayed in this PG-13 film). Violence? Oh, yes. That base is covered, too. Language? Bad behavior? Yup, The Stepfather has it all.
Well, actually, it doesn’t have it all. What’s missing is the most important thing: A compelling reason to see it.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Dylan Walsh as David Harris; Sela Ward as Susan Harding; Penn Badgley as Michael Harding; Amber Heard as Kelly Porter
Nelson McCormick ( )
October 16, 2009
February 9, 2010