This review is of the TV-14 edited version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative
This film plays out just like you would expect it to. It’s a dime a dozen horror/slasher kind of film where everyone is too oblivious for their own good. There was one scene which was an interesting subversion but on the other hand the whole scene felt really annoying and stretched my disbelief to the max so I’m not sure it was a great tradeoff. This film doesn’t do much right tbh, I suppose at least it reminds you on the dangers of rebounding. It can always get a little dangerous.
So the movie starts off with Jerry murdering a family and then running off to his next disguise. Basically his gimmick is that he will take on a new identity and marry a widow who has a kid. They’ll then live a normal life until he gets bored or upset and then he takes them out before repeating the process. What you have to understand is that for him to do this so often, a lot of people are just marrying him real quick. We don’t know how many times he’s pulled this off but it’s heavily implied that the scene we saw in the beginning of the film wasn’t the first time.
With the current family he is able to quickly get on Susan’s good side but her daughter Stephanie is a harder sell. She doesn’t like Jerry and isn’t happy about having to get used to him. Jerry needs to win her over quickly because he wants a perfect family and so if that doesn’t happen then she will have to go. Stephanie didn’t like Jerry from the start so unfortunately nobody takes her too seriously when she starts to say that he might be shady. After all that may just be sour bananas right?
It’s just a little hard to buy into the fact that all these widows are so desperate that they’d marry Jerry right away. During the film there’s a quick scene where he’s already starting to get his next life all set up and immediately after a few seconds of flirting it semes like he’s got his next victim all picked out. Cmon now, the film’s going to have to work a little harder to make that seem even slightly realistic. It’s an interesting gimmick for the main villain to have but it’s not too practical.
Now the whole film there is a guy named Jim who is on the case. This paragraph and the next 4 will have big spoilers so skip them if you haven’t seen the movie yet. I just have to dive in here because this character was just so bad. Whew……this guy was really bad. SO here’s what happens, he’s the brother of the last girl that Jerry took down for the count. He has follows the guy across the state and has narrowed his search down to a few people left. Finally he gets a definitive lead and knows exactly who he is looking for. So Jim goes to the house and yes he brought his gun with him. Jim sees that the door is open and everything is awful quiet. Okay that means Jim is ready right? He takes out his gun and just starts popping off??
No, Jim walks in and starts to look around. That’s when Jerry tries to sneak up on him but the door is so old that it makes a noise so Jim sees him. “Is that you sir???” Jim basically asks and Jerry just grins. “Long time no see Jim”…..and you figure Jerry is out of ideas and options because there’s nothing he can do. Jim has the gun and there is no element of surprise. There is absolutely nothing that Jerry can even hope to do in this situation. It’s all curtains, roll credits. Except…..that’s actually not what happens here.
See….Jim…..forgot to take his gun out of his pocket. Why…..I can’t even….what’s even worse is that Jim’s pocket is closed with a zipper and it gets jammed. Noooooooo
This is one of the most contrived moments I’ve seen in cinematic history. So Jim starts fumbling with the zipper while Jerry walks over and murders him. That’s just embarrassing. That’s not only awful writing in what was already a terrible movie but it makes no sense. Clearly the idea here was to subvert your expectations since the entire film has Jim running around looking for Jerry so you’re expecting the big payoff. No instead he gets neg diffed (Defeated with negative difficulty) and wastes his gun.
You need the full context here. Jim already knew what the guy looked like, he knew his address, and he knew that the guy just quit his job in the current alias which means he is about to murder his family. Jim’s the one who connected all of these dots earlier and even warned the cops. So he knows exactly what to expect and the door was open plus the house was eerily quiet. Why didn’t he already have his gun out? Why use a pocket with a zipper so you can’t take the gun out at a moment’s notice? Man………
Okay that’s it for spoilers. So back to the film, Jim’s a pretty awful character and I don’t need to talk about him much. Jerry’s bad which is pretty much automatic as one of those random serial killers. It’s not like there is any interesting motivations to his actions or anything like that. He’s just one of those lunatics so you’re waiting for him to get his at some point. He just tends to get lucky that his opponents are either not very smart, have 0 IQ, come in with no plan, or forget their own stories. He gets a lot of breaks here.
You’ve got the therapist Dr. Bondurant who seems decent at times but then tends to fumble. I appreciate that he’s proactive and tries to meet with Jerry but then he quickly starts making easy mistakes. Being obvious about his questions, forgetting his lies even though he just needs to bluff his way through 10 minutes, etc. This guy should have done way better and the way he goes out is just awful. Look, if you’re going to die anyway then at least try fighting back, jump out the window (They’re on the ground floor), tackle, do something. Instead he’s still trying to say that he’s not lying while he’s being stabbed. At that point nobody cares, certainly not the murderer. You need to fight back instead of hoping that he’ll stop.
As one of those films where you know Jerry is evil from the jump, it does always make for an interesting perspective. You get to really backseat drive the main characters here and their decisions feel even worse this way. I like the idea though even if it doesn’t do anything to save the film here. Stephanie is okay but unfortunately she did make it tough for anyone to believe her with how she never even gave Jerry a chance. I think she should have made a bigger deal about Jerry’s random episode in the basement but realistically almost anything she did would have had her get murdered anyway so I’m not sure it would have done much. At the end of the day when you’re a kid there’s not a whole lot you can do.
The film can be quite violent so you’ll want to give this one a pass if you’re not up for that. It definitely limits the film’s potential from the jump but in this case you also had to factor in the writing. Jerry also gets the family a dog and right away there were a lot of red flags. Now, the dog does escape initially when Stephanie gets home but I don’t recall the dog appearing after that in the ending. Did it survive or not? It’s hard to tell and at least from my recollection it didn’t feel definitive. I like to imagine that he did live for that result but the film was treading on very murky water there.
Overall, The Stepfather is a movie where the plot is hard to buy right from the start. Nobody is ever helpful in trying to take him down and if anything they’re just getting in each other’s way. There are no true standout characters and the film just doesn’t have much of a soul to it. If any of the characters were even remotely tough then you expect that they would have been able to do more here. It’s also why you probably want to really take your time in a relationship before you get serious. Not sure how much it would have helped in this case but to an extent I like to think the cracks in Jerry’s façade would have started to appear. It’s not like he’s the best actor with how he forgets who he is once in a while and even uses the wrong names in random conversations. He’s not all there so it’s not like he’s some kind of genius mastermind.