In this remake, Dylan Walsh takes over the title role from Terry O'Quinn and makes an equally chilling family man.
Both center on a monster with pathos, a man forever searching for the perfect family to love -- and turning into a homicidal maniac when it inevitably proves to be all too human. Terry O'Quinn was unforgettable in the original, striving to play the '50s "Father Knows Best" parent with a nerdy squareness that was darkly amusing when he wasn't terrifying.
In the new version, Dylan Walsh's crazed David Harris similarly craves to be the old-fashioned dominating patriarch but he's a different type -- handsome, sexy, smoothly forceful. He's just the man to sweep lovely, vulnerable recently divorced Susan Harding (Sela Ward) right off her feet. In no time, he's moved in with Ward, who has three children and lives in a spacious, vintage Craftsman home in Portland, Ore. Ward's ex (Jon Tenney) is not a bad guy, but his immaturity and hot temper play right into Walsh's increasing dominance. In his understated way that's just right for this version of the psychological suspense thriller, Walsh is as impressive as O'Quinn.
His Harris is a phenomenally quick thinker, able to cover any missteps rapidly, but Susan's eldest son Michael ( Penn Badgley), home from a year at a military academy, gradually finds himself growing uneasy about Harris' controlling ways. Youthful audiences can identify with the likable Badgley and Amber Heard, who plays his girlfriend, but the filmmakers don't focus on them so much as to throw off the trajectory of the plot.
Indeed, the film is all of a piece, a handsome, thoughtfully crafted production that generates a mounting terror securely anchored by assured performances, consistent psychological persuasiveness and believable dialogue. What's most chilling about "The Stepfather" is that it was inspired by an actual incident in New Jersey in 1971.