The Stepchild full movie review - Pretty typical Lifetime trash
Alas, after the relative quality of "Mommy's Little Girl," the next film Lifetime showed March 19, "The Stepchild," was a major step down, closer to the level of Lifetime's usual sleazy trash.
It begins with a weird sequence that shows director Roma Roth, who also co-wrote the script with Gemma Holdway, has a flair for the Gothic: it involves a dream in which the titular stepchild, Ashley Bennett (Sara Fisher), is clutching a snowball globe which breaks and gets all bloody when she spies the dead body of her father on the living-room floor of their home. Dad is named Bill Bennett and his first wife ? Ashley's mom ? was schizophrenic and ultimately committed suicide by drowning herself in the bathtub. Then he remarried; his new wife is Beth (Lauren Holly), though he's often not home because he's busy building a major real-estate development company (we know it's a major firm because its office walls are festooned with photos of the skyscrapers they've built all over the world) with his business partner John Blackwell (Paul Johansson).
Then Bill Bennett is himself murdered in what appears to have been a home-invasion robbery gone awry ? only after the killing John Blackwell moves into the Bennetts' home, ostensibly to sort out the business affairs of the company so it can continue, and probate Bennett's will, and Ashley becomes convinced her stepmom (whom she never calls "mom," only "Beth") and Blackwell are having an affair and Blackwell actually killed her dad and merely faked it to look like a robbery gone bad. For most of the running time that's what we're led to believe, too ? especially after Ashley finds a letter in the home office her dad used to use and Blackwell has taken over saying that as a 49 percent owner Blackwell couldn't sell the company without her dad's permission ? though Roth and Holdway also throw us an alternate suspect: Ashley's boyfriend Michael (the boyishly cute Keenan Tracey), an aspiring rock musician who wants to relocate to L.A. and take Ashley with him. Michael had a motive to kill Ashley's dad because Bill Bennett, like one of the feuding families in "Romeo and Juliet," didn't approve of Michael and didn't want her daughter to be involved with him. At the end there's still another switcheroo that shreds the already stretched suspension of disbelief you'll have to have to watch this.
Though Roma Roth's direction shows a real flair for the Gothic, especially in scenes without dialogue, the film as a whole is pretty slowly paced and we've got a lot more time to think about the holes in the plot than we did in "Mommy's Little Girl." Besides, as Alfred Hitchcock realized, a whodunit is actually less interesting as a plot device than a story in which we know from the outset who the criminal is and the suspense is in how long it will take for the other characters to figure it out and what danger they will be in when they do ? and ironically, though Ashley Bennett is supposed to be one of the good guys, Rachel Pellinen, the child actress who plays Ashley in the flashbacks to her own childhood (particularly the sequence where she found her mom dead in the bathtub), has the same sinister pigtails of Patty McCormick in "The Bad Seed" and looks more like her than Emma Hentschel did in "Mommy's Little Girl"!