(In theatres, October 2009) There’s a market for “fill-in movies”: Those utterly average instances of their chosen genre, serving no higher purpose that to keep theatres in business as we wait for the next worthwhile films. So it is that The Stepfather, remake of an eighties film I now have even less interest in, exists: to present a familiar story in an even more familiar way, entertaining compliant audiences in rote fashion. There’s little about the film that can’t be deduced from the trailer: Teenager comes back home after a lengthy absence to find his mom remarried to a mysterious stranger with mood swings and old-fashioned family-first morals. But the titular stepfather is worse than your usual garden-variety Republican: he’s a serial killer who regularly disposes of his step-families, although that isn’t much of a spoiler given how the very first scene of the film leisurely establishes that plot point. There isn’t much left to do than to sit back as the film goes through the expected plot beats (sometimes more than once) and concludes with the final fight between protagonist and villain. There’s a final flourish that, frankly, will make audiences angry at the filmmakers: The Stepfather simply isn’t good enough to deserve its off-kilter ending. This being said, it’s not all bad: Dylan Walsh (looking like about a dozen different other actors) is pretty good in the lead role, the direction is a bit better than you’d expect for a middle-of-the-road thriller and a few modern touches update the story to 2009. But that’s not much than a bit of polish on a deeply unimpressive result. The scares are obvious (including the requisite meowing cat), the antagonist has big overdone flaws (and yet, little motivation), the twists are non-existent and the obviousness of the entire film just makes it seem to last even longer. For those who really want to see a thriller now, The Stepfather is just a bit better than straight-to-DVD releases… but not by much.