Last night Lifetime aired The Stepchild, a movie which tried its damnedest to throw us off the scent of who the real killer was. And I have to say it did a pretty good job. I mean, I knew it was happening, but I sure as hell didn’t guess the truth, at least not in exactly the WTF way it revealed itself.
The movie opens on a creepy dream involving the main character Ashley (Sarah Fisher) dropping her snow globe as a child and seeing blood on her hands. The snow globe plays “Hush Little Baby,” just to up the creep factor. We learn that Ashley is in a psych ward after suffering a nervous breakdown over her father’s murder. She can’t remember the details of what happened that day, but she feels guilty that she couldn’t save him, which leads the audience (or at least me) to wonder if maybe she was the one who did it. Uh oh, where’d that scent go?
Ashley’s therapist sends her home to live with her stepmother Beth (Lauren Holly) and her dad’s business partner John (Paul Johansson), who has been staying at the house. Immediately I was like, “These two were totally having an affair, and they killed the dad so they could be together!” But as soon as John showed up and Ashley actually started to suspect him, I threw that theory out the window. The movie really tries hard to set John up as the bad guy, which made me more and more certain he wasn’t. Who the bad guy was, however, I couldn’t be so sure.
There are few suspects, from Ashley herself to Beth to Ashley’s boyfriend Michael (Keenan Tracey, a repeat Lifetime offender who’s already played a TWIST! villain). While I tried to figure out which one of those three it was, Ashley becomes more and more certain that it’s John. She finds a letter (which was way too small for me to read on my TV screen, although the length of the shot suggested I was supposed to) that proves he wanted to sell the company before her father’s death. She also finds that he has a gun and that his ex-wife died under suspicious circumstances thanks to some faulty brakes. It doesn’t hurt that John totally acts like he has murders to cover up. But the first rule of villaining is to act totally normal until your secret is out. Then you act evil.
Ashley has a scary moment when she’s home alone in the bathtub and she hears the sound of her snow globe, which she discovers playing on her bedside table. The cops come to investigate it (including Kevin Hanchard, aka Detective Art Bell from Orphan Black — hey buddy, what are you doing here?), but everybody seems to think Ashley is crazy. And they will continue to think that for the rest of the movie, because as it turns out, her mother was schizophrenic and killed herself. And mothers with mental illness are the leading cause of suspicion among Lifetime characters.
Ashley goes to her dad’s office, where his co-worker Linda tells her she “knew what was going on” and tried to warn Ashley’s father. Ashley tries to get her to give her more information, but Linda says she can’t talk there and tells her to meet her the next day. At this point, if I were Ashley, I would have been like, “Look Linda, I know that you’re going to be dead before you can tell me anything, so just spit it out already!” Obviously the next day Linda is a no-show. After getting her address from the dumbass receptionist (incompetence is a great plot motivator, it turns out), Ashley discovers Linda’s dead body, runs out of the house, and calls the police.
When the police get there, they don’t find any sign of Linda. Ashley’s all “BUT JOHN IS A MURDERER! HE KILLED HIS WIFE! I KNOW THIS EVEN THOUGH I HAVE NO EVIDENCE! ARREST HIM!” The detective (Al Sapienza) tells her that there was a recall of John’s wife’s car for being faulty, so it probably wasn’t a murder. John and Beth encourage Ashley to go back to see her therapist, which is a lowkey way of telling her she’s nuts. Ashley agrees, and when she starts explaining the same suspicions, her therapist prescribes her a pill.
Ashley takes the pill and soon after washes it down with champagne, which Beth allowed her to have to celebrate them being able to sell the house. Later Beth mentions the pills on her own, which means she knew about them, which means she gave her stepdaughter alcohol knowing she had just taken prescription meds. Looking back, that was quite possibly the most obvious sign in the whole movie that Beth is the bad guy. But we haven’t gotten there yet. Just wait a minute.
After lying down because she doesn’t feel well (obvs), Ashley videochats with Michael, who has been doing some research about John’s dead wife. Apparently her sister knows for a fact that John killed her. What a perfect time for someone to seemingly break into Michael’s house and attack him off screen. And how convenient that John has been suspiciously absent through all of these apparent attacks. Wow, fate just really hates John, I guess.
Ashley starts driving to Michael’s house, but of course she falls asleep and ends up in an accident that puts her in the hospital. The therapist is there, and she tells Beth and John that she’s considering transferring Ashley to a long-term facility. They don’t seem to mind much, Beth because she’s evil and John because Ashley won’t stop suspecting him even though it’s only a coincidence that he acts villainous. Give a guy a break.
Meanwhile, the detective arrives to give Ashley a letter from Michael saying he went to LA. He also tells her he believes he doesn’t think she’s crazy, but the implication, at least in Ashley’s mind, is that he think she’s the murderer, so she kicks him out. Her therapist tries to give her drugs, but Ashley pulls the ole no swallowing trick and ends up sneaking out of the hospital easy as pie. She makes it home in time to find Beth standing over John’s unconscious body. She hit him with the snow globe, which also happens to have been the murder weapon the first time around. Jesus, how is this snow globe still intact?
This is where the twist happens. Michael walks in looking as evil as can be, and he and Beth explain that they killed Ashley’s father because he discovered they were having an affair. Yes, that’s right, Beth and Michael were having an affair. Because why not? They worked together to try to make Ashley look crazy, and now Beth wants to frame her, so she promptly shoots Michael and then chases after Beth. During a classic strangle-fight on the floor, John conveniently comes to and shoots Beth with the discarded gun.
The movie ends with Ashley going to work with John at her dad’s company. Okay, hold up. She hasn’t even graduated high school. At least, I don’t think so. I mean, she never went to school the whole movie, but I just assumed it was summer, and/or she had time off because of her whole mental instability thing. Now she’s suddenly a business mogul? I realize this wasn’t the most reasonable movie to begin with, but COME ON.