Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Premise: A nanny (Rebecca De Mornay) with ulterior motives moves in with a suburban family and begins dividing the children against their parents and threatens to come in between husband and wife.
What Works: Like Halloween or Fatal Attraction, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is a film about one of the unique fears of suburbia: the monster next door, or, in this case, the monster upstairs. The film really works because of Rebecca De Mornay’s role as Peyton Flanders. Rather than starting with the woman showing up at the family’s door and then wrecking havoc with their lives, the film begins with a prologue that shows how she has lost everything. It gives her a psychosis and makes her sympathetic, which makes her character much more complicated and heightens the suspense for the audience. De Mornay plays it perfectly, maintaining the ambiguity of her character’s intentions and making her both threatening and undeniably feminine while not falling into some of the misogynist muck that other films like Dressed to Kill sometimes trudge through. Aside from De Mornay’s role as Peyton Flanders, the film is filled with characters who expose the suspicions and fears that the family carries with them, such as their initial fear of Solomon (Ernie Hudson), a black man who is developmentally disabled, and the betrayal of trust by the mother’s gynecologist. This environment of fear plays very well and heightens the vulnerability of the family. The narrative keeps things tight as De Mornay’s character gets closer and closer to her goal of supplanting the mother while at the same time putting her own sanity at greater and greater risk of collapsing.
What Doesn’t: The plot of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is fairly predictable as this outsider manipulates the family. The ending pulls a cheat as a hero miraculously shows up just in time. So much of the film is done credibly up that that point that perhaps this one can slide but it is a noticeable flaw in what is otherwise a well paced and intelligent thriller.
DVD extras: Trailers.
Bottom Line: The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is a solid film and an entertaining exercise in suspense and horror. The film owes a lot to Hitchcock and to the slasher films of the early 1980s and while it’s not totally original it does stand as a thrilling film in its own right.
Episode: #230 (March 8, 2009)