If you’d thought that hell would have to freeze over for a Lifetime thriller to actually remain fairly unpredictable until the climax, the demons mustn’t be very pleased right now. The unthinkable has happened, and To Kill A Stepfather has not just emerged as a far better thriller than the usual trope-fests but also turned out to be more gripping than a lot of big-budget projects with promising premises and pretentious executions. I guess it would have to be a giant, unreasonable stretch to expect a Lifetime movie not to be trope-y. But even with all that in mind, To Kill A Stepfather might actually tickle your brain with suspense that seems well thought out and performances that throw a challenge in the face of some of the big-time mainstream stars. Here’s how the murder mystery went down:
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘To Kill A Stepfather’ Film?
Nobody better epitomizes a small fish in a big pond than Nicole, a woman with aspirations far greater than her hometown allowed for. Nicole’s made it big as a defense lawyer, so much so that her face is on the news quite frequently, even if it is for getting affluent murder suspects off the hook. Having thrown shade at her by strangers for being the one who exonerates alleged criminals doesn’t faze Nicole. She’s been hardened by life and her raging alcoholic mother, Kate, whom she’s long cut ties with. Nicole never thought that she’d voluntarily go back to her hometown, but that’s what she finds herself doing when her frantic sister Riley calls her up to let her in on the news of a tragedy. Nicole’s stepfather, the widely loved church choir singer and distillery owner Matthew, has apparently been murdered, and his grieving widow is rotting in a holding cell for the alleged crime of killing her husband under the influence of alcohol. It comes down to Nicole to shake off a lifetime of festering resentment and battle Kate’s ginormous ego to represent her in court and hopefully save her from the charge of murder in the first degree.
Why Does Nicole Believe Kate?
It’s understandably awkward and uncomfortable for Nicole to have all her old trigger switches clicked the moment she steps into town. And if it weren’t for her sister Riley and her aching doe-eyes, Nicole wouldn’t have even considered sitting through Kate’s incredibly tone-deaf accusations and dismissal. But it’s a mix of her volatile attorney ego and her concern for her family’s well-being that convince Nicole to take on the case. Thanks to being inebriated, Kate doesn’t quite recall the exact turn of events that led to Matthew’s fall from the stairs. She doesn’t even remember if anyone else was present in the house at the time.
In a small town with a police chief hell-bent on getting the murder trial over with as soon as possible, Nicole can’t expect the detectives to have done a thorough job. So she takes it upon herself to look into it and stumbles on a crucial piece of evidence that exonerates her mother, at least in her eyes. Their house not having central air meant that the windows were hardly ever closed. But in the pictures Nicole finds of the crime scene, the windows are closed, which strikes her as odd. Nothing substantial comes of it, even though Nicole’s deputy friend Charlene does her a solid and looks into it. But at least Nicole now believes her mother when she claims to be innocent of the crime.
Who Are The Primary Suspects In Nicole’s Book?
Nicole’s charming fluency before a group of strangers, something that I’d believe helps her sway the jury in the courtroom, comes in rather handy at Matthew’s wake. Amidst a bunch of frowny acquaintances who have an ingrained disdain for the one that got away and made it big, Riley introduces Nicole to Sadie, the woman who works at the local pub and was a friend to Kate and her deceased husband. But Sadie quickly loses Nicole’s attention, which is immediately caught by Kirk, Matthew’s sketchy business partner, who’s a bit too insistent on pinning the murder on Kate. When Nicole learns of Kirk’s devious financial schemes that Riley was concerned about, it puts him on her radar of suspicion. It’s only elevated to a full-blown theory when DA Bobby, who happens to be Nicole’s ex and still harbors a blatant fondness for the gorgeous attorney, goes out of his way to let her in on information that only hampers his case.
Riley had convinced Matthew to change his will, cut Kirk out, and place Kate next in line to inherit the distillery. The distillery by itself may not be very lucrative, but the land it stands on is a real estate goldmine. This information doesn’t just push Nicole to consider Kirk’s possible involvement in the murder; it also makes her wonder if the money could’ve been motivation enough for her mother to actually kill her husband. It only adds to Nicole’s overwhelming confusion and stress when she’s relentlessly followed by a hooded man who breaks into her apartment and leaves her a threatening note. At least, with Charlene’s help and a rage-fueled slipup by the stalker himself, Nicole soon learns that she was being followed by Matthew’s grief-stricken brother Wyatt, who, despite being a significant threat to her safety, doesn’t exactly have a motive to be the killer.
‘To Kill A Stepfather’ Ending Explained: Who Killed Matthew?
There’s only so much that Nicole can do to keep her mother from the chair when everything her investigation unearths adds to the mountain of motives Kate might’ve had to kill her husband. It seems too much of a fairytale story that Matthew walked into Kate’s life, fixed it right up, helped her battle her addiction, and made her happy. If he was, in fact, the man that the town swooned over, why didn’t he push Kate to make amends for the ways she’d hurt her estranged daughter? If their marriage was perfect, why did Kate start drinking again? Not quite popular with the neighbors, Kate has no upper hand with the jury that will seal her fate.
Moreover, their neighbor Helen, who’d called it in and holds a grave disdain for Kate, swore to have heard Kate threaten her husband in an inebriated condition. The only silver lining is that Helen’s husband, Harold, seems to be the kind of person who doesn’t jump to conclusions. It’s with Harold’s help that Nicole even gets to know about the affair that Matthew was having. And it’s this push, even though an affair seems to only serve as yet another motive for Kate to kill her husband, that makes Nicole take matters into her own hands and look for further evidence inside the house. When she finds an email sent by the woman Matthew was seeing and a stray pendant near the stairs that the cops had missed, Nicole is certain that this mystery woman had something to do with the fights Kate and Matthew were having and his subsequent murder. But something else derails her from this path.
A visit to Matthew’s attorney, who was in charge of his will, makes her question everything she thought she knew about her family. The distillery, after Kate, is supposed to go to none other than Riley. It’s here that you start to wonder if the spoiler isn’t in the film’s title itself, but ‘To Kill A Stepfather’ has put more effort into it than you’d expect from a Lifetime movie. Nicole’s ruthless attorney persona often takes over and consumes the sensibility she’s otherwise capable of. The stress of her mother’s trial is getting to her more than she’s letting on, and she will grab just about any clue she can get her hands on at this point. Nicole’s fight isn’t just to keep Kate from getting a life sentence or worse; it’s also her last shot at trying to fix what she thought was broken forever. She has an overwhelming need to be needed, something that isn’t lost on her mother. But be it the stress of the impending trial, the grief of losing Matthew, or just her desperate way to not let the guilt penetrate the facade of victimhood she’s put up, Kate has no patience for Nicole’s outbursts. She even goes as far as to reject the plea deal offered by Bobby and fire Nicole as her attorney. But Nicole isn’t necessarily giving up just yet. It’s no surprise that Riley is immensely hurt by the brazen accusations her own sister hurls at her. Yet, despite the bitterness of the circumstances, something good comes out of it.
To prove her innocence, Riley shows Nicole the footage from her video doorbell that shows that her car was there throughout the night of the murder. This not only puts Nicole’s wrong suspicion to rest but also makes her look for the killer in the right place. During the ending sequence of ‘To Kill A Stepfather,’ the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt comes to light through Harold’s action. It’s through the footage of his video doorbell that Nicole gets to know who came to her parents house on the night of the murder. And when she invites this person into the house for a glass of wine and a heart-to-heart, it turns out to be Sadie. Raising a toast to complicated relationships, Nicole stalls long enough for the cops to arrive. If it weren’t for Charlene barging in at the right time, the knife-wielding Sadie would have gotten away with another murder.
Here’s how Nicole connected the dots during To Kill A Stepfather‘s ending: the email that she’d found on Matthew’s computer was part of a song’s lyrics, the other part of which was etched on the pendant that Nicole’d found near the staircase. And when she saw Sadie getting out of her car on the video footage shown by Harold, she immediately connected her to the description of the woman Matthew was having an affair with. It was a crime of passion, after all. Now, with the threat of imprisonment out of the way, thanks to the daughter she has been a massive disappointment to all her life, Kate can finally look forward to working on herself. It’s a pretty convenient conclusion that Nicole readily forgives her mother for a lifetime of trauma and even entertains the possibility of moving back to her hometown, but would it really be a Lifetime movie without a blatantly forced happy ending?