The Stepdaughter (2000)


USA. 2000.


Director – Peter Liapis, Screenplay – Suzanne Dolan & Richard Dana Smith, Story – Suzanne Dolan & Cyndi Pass, Producers – Pierre David & Noel A. Zanitsch, Photography – Maximo Munzi, Music – Richard Bowers, Special Effects – Action Unlimited Inc (Supervisor – Nick Plantico), Production Design – Helen Harwell. Production Company – World International Network LLC


Andrea Roth (Susan Hiller/Karen Mills), Lisa Dean Ryan (Linda Conner), Jaimz Woolvett (Buddy Conner), Gil Gerard (Jessie Conner), Cindy Pickett (Maggie Conner), Gary Hudson (Paris), Lee Dawson (Deputy Tom Gitlin), Bonita Friedericy (Calista Davis), Matthew Farnsworth (Will)


Susan Hiller allows a cowboy to pick her up in a bar and then takes him to a motel room where she stabs him. Next, she fakes a car accident and begs refuge at the ranch of Jessie Conner, who graciously invites her to stay the night. News comes in the morning that the cowboy, Jessie’s ranch hand, has been killed, whereupon Jessie, short-staffed, offers Susan the job after she says she has had prior experience with horses. Susan proceeds to ingratiate herself in the household with Jessie, his intellectually handicapped son Buddy and Jessie’s crippled wife Maggie. However, Jessie’s daughter Linda remains suspicious of some of the facts in Susan’s story and uncovers increasing evidence that she has entered the household with malevolent intent.

Expatriate Canadian producer Pierre David made his name in the 1990s with a host of psycho-thrillers. These have included the likes of The Paperboy (1994), Stalked (1994), The Secretary (1995), Daddy’s Girl (1996), The Dentist (1996), Cupid (1997), The Landlady (1997), Man of Her Dreams (1997), The Nurse (1997), Someone is Watching (1999), The Perfect Nanny (2000), The Perfect Tenant (2000), The Perfect Wife (2001) and The Perfect Husband (2004), among numerous others. The Stepdaughter is one of these.

The director this time is Peter Liapis. Peter Liapis was previously an actor – his best known role was probably as the young Satanist in Ghoulies (1985). Liapis had previously written Stranger in the House (1997) for Pierre David and then made his directorial debut with Captured (1998). Following this, Liapis would go onto both write and direct the excellent evil twin psycho-thriller, Alone with a Stranger (2000), the best film that Pierre David has produced to date.

Most of Pierre David’s psycho-thrillers fall into an easy formula, although the more films he has made, the more he has proven willing to experiment with the formula and increasingly better the films have become. The Stepdaughter is a competently formulaic effort. As with many of Pierre David’s films, it is essentially a variant on the story arc laid down by Fatal Attraction (1987) – of an unbalanced stranger tearing apart a family unit. Peter Liapis, while remaining essentially faithful to David’s formula, conducts some okay twists and turns, even if in the end The Stepdaughter is not particularly standout. There is a captivating opening where Andrea Roth, bewitching in cowboy gear and a black wig, allows cowboy Matthew Farnsworth to pick her up in the a bar, takes him to a motel room, throws him on the bed, puts her cowboy hat over his face as she erotically teases him and then does a Sharon Stone and stabs him through the heart.

The Stepdaughter‘s greatest successes may be its cast. Canadian actress Andrea Roth gives a likable performance where you cannot help but warm to her natural friendliness yet also sense a calculating danger beneath. The best performance in the cast comes from Lisa Dean Ryan, who presents a cool, intelligence as she remains the only one of the family to retain guarded suspicions. Both Andrea Roth and Lisa Dean Ryan are clearly actresses with promising futures ahead of them. It is also a surprise to see Gil Gerard, once star of tv shows like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-81) and E.A.R.T.H. Force (1990), a little more solid and with a few grey hairs, back on form after several years absence from screens.

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