The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not a good nanny.

Claire (Annabella Sciorra) is a young mother who feels that her doctor (John de Lancie) molested her during her exam. She goes to the authorities, which brings out more complaints from other patients. This leads the doctor into killing himself and causing his widowed wife (Rebecca De Mornay) to miscarry. In revenge the widow decides to destroy the life of the woman who brought up the charges and does so by posing as the family’s nanny named Peyton Flanders.

Just when you think that the old psycho formula has gone stale this film comes along that injects a whole new life into it. That is not to say that there is anything new here because there isn’t yet it is a pure thriller that captures the formula well and hits it on all cylinders. It builds the suspense slowly but consistently without throwing in any cheap teasers. You really ARE on the edge of your seat as the tension grows. The climatic sequence is well mounted, but the best part is that it creates a villain that is not only a threat, but also someone you hate, really hate! You look forward to the inevitable showdown and become emotionally involved in its outcome.

De Mornay makes a terrific bad lady. Usually villainess females work of their sensuality, but not here. Yes it is intimated, but it is incased in a very cold and calculating exterior. The character is deliberate and spins an elaborate web while coming up with some clever deaths for her victims with the best one being the death by greenhouse. Her icy stares reminded me of the legendary Bette Davis.

The good guys aren’t quite as interesting and in many ways are a bit boring. The husband/father (Matt McCoy) is especially bland and almost transparent. Sciorra’s beautiful and very angelic face helps, but she seems to get rattled too easily. Julianne Moore, as Marlene a family friend, is the only one who offers anything in the way of tenacity to her personality.

The Ernie Hudson character, who is mentally handicapped, is a nice addition. It shows sensitivity to those with disabilities and doesn’t exploit it simply for entertainment. His final showdown with De Mornay is another one you just can’t wait to see. The kids are adorable and it’s nice to see that they too can be resourceful when they need to be and can’t be so easily brainwashed either.

In all fairness there are some logic loopholes that should be mentioned. One is the obvious fact that this woman makes up her past in order to get the job as the nanny. When she applies for the position you would think that a careful and responsible family such as this one would check her references carefully and find her discrepancies. Also there is the fact that the De Mornay character was at one time a prominent doctor’s wife. This would give me the impression that she would have had a large circle of friends and they would have all wondered what happened to her or at the very least spotted her in her new identity since she apparently only moved to the other side of town.

Still, this is a solid thriller that is perfectly made for fans of the genre and deserves to be on the list with the best.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: January 10, 1992

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Hanson

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

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