The Stepfather is every thriller you've ever seen put in a blender; the problem is that the makers obnoxiously left the blender on for the entire film. The movie is noisy, blatant, and fitfully simple-minded. Decent acting and wonderful photography don't salvage this weak and mostly silly picture.
Let me go over the plot: Mom meets clever man. Clever(ly disguised) man is nice to Mom. Mom dates man. Mom's oldest son comes home. Son meets man. Stepfather (oddly titled, as he isn't yet married...) hams it up. Audience knows stepfather is up to no good (both from the murder at the beginning and, well, the title). Stepfather is indeed up to no good. Son eventually catches on. No one believes him. Stepfather goes psycho. Final brawl in the attic with, of course, loose flooring that could cause one to fall through the ceiling. Creepy ending. Roll credits.
Though probably the pickiest 'sin' of them all, I have a fine-tuned ear for proper and improper film scores. If there's one thing that can make or break a film, it's the attached music. Nothing can ruin a sense of inspiration or awe like blaring brass instruments. Nothing can ruin a tender moment of sincerity like the rhythmical thumping of a preschooler's composition. Most of the time, bad scores prove only to be an annoyance. Unfortunately for this film, it caused much of its demise.
From the very first moment to the final shot, ominous music plays in nearly every typical situation. Every time the stepfather is onscreen, scary music immediately heightens; he could be eating grapes or just staring; it doesn't make a difference. He has an ever-present orchestra of screeching violins and eerie whistling accompanying him wherever he goes. The anticipation of a good scare is so overemphasized that nothing is, well, scary. Good thrillers have good thrills that are only enhanced technically. Bad thrillers have poor thrills, salvaged technically. Such is The Stepfather.
On the positive side, the cinematography for this film is beautiful and rich. But that only adds to the emphasis of production values over true filmmaking. The screenplay is exhaustingly unoriginal. The pacing is sluggish. The setups are undernourished. The characters and their actions are flimsy. A thriller like this needs to take an innovative new approach from the start. This does not.
As the film progressed, I was always wondering what the motivation for the stepfather's murderous acts were. The film never provides a conclusive answer for that. It works full circle telling you HOW he does what he does, but never WHY. This was a considerable blockade for this picture. Not having any motivation other than an unprecedented anger because of an 'unexplainable psychosis' doesn't work for me. It only proves that this film was made simply to, well, make a movie. There was no purpose or point to its creation.
The Stepfather is neither thrilling nor gripping, due heavily, though not entirely, to the blazingly obnoxious score. I'm sure you and I have seen plenty of other (better) movies just like this. There is nothing new or interesting here. Do yourself a favor and skip this one. This is a tired genre, and it's time for it to take a nap.
Other sinners: Prom Night; I Still Know What You Did Last Summer