Before much longer, I’ll be moving to a new place, and will be in dire need of childcare soon after we’re settled in. The two movies I really didn’t need to watch during this time were The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (even though she’s only 18 months old.). Well it just so happened my day was lacking that certain je ne sais quoi which could only be fixed by watching Ernie Hudson go full retard. Thus, in went Curtis “8 Mile” Hanson’s entry into the early 1990’s “Troubled White People” genre, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Some spoilers abound.
I begin with disappointment. This Blu-ray release is the equivalent of calling an old sandwich new by sticking it on a better plate. The movie looks great, sure. De Mornay’s eyes are as blue and endless as Martian oceans. Graeme Revell’s delicate score has never drawn emotions with such crispness and fullness before. But then the credits roll, and you turn off your Blu-ray player because absolutely nothing else is on this disc except for trailers. Even a commentary from Matt McCoy’s Lloyd Braun character from Seinfeld would have felt monumental. Off to the bargain bin we go.
It’s been almost twenty years since my first and only time spent with Rebecca De Mornay’s vengeful day nanny. Since then, the “person terrorizing another person’s life by becoming very close to that person” trend of storylines has fizzled, to be reborn again in combination with the 'evil children' genre. For the most part, Hollywood has accepted that this specific story has been buried beneath six feet of predictability, and seldom uses it as a crutch anymore. Does this put The Hand That Rocks the Cradle under a more scrutinizing microscope? Not really. It’s still just a by-the-books thriller.
Even so, it’s an extremely effective by-the-books thriller, and time has aided in its cinematic stasis. Nothing feels particularly dated, minus the absent “Why didn’t you answer your cell phone?” conversations. The acting is overly decent all around. The pace is brisk and the misunderstandings aren’t frustratingly moronic. As Peyton, De Mornay is maddeningly villainous, though her traumatizing incident at the beginning of the movie surely would have led her insanity down a different path than this. Realizing you made some bad life calls would force you to rethink your past crazy decisions, not add on to them a thousand fold.
If anything remains relatively fresh about the film, it is indeed Peyton’s extremely personal familial invasion of the Bartel household. Certain methods, like insinuating Michael (McCoy) is cheating on Claire (Annabella Sciorra) with close friend Marlene (Julianne Moore), are typical to the genre. But the way it’s handled, using only a lighter and Michael’s own defensiveness, is subtle. This trick also leads to one of the most uncomfortable moments in any surprise party on film. I just looked on, aghast, thankful that no one I know likes planning things.
Beyond the normal stuff, however, Peyton is a crazy bitch by any era’s standards. Her foul deeds seem to be pulled from some current day headlines. She famously breastfeeds another woman’s child without telling anyone. She lies about finding the back of an earring in the baby’s mouth. She not only threatens a developmentally challenged black handyman, she plants a pair of flowery children’s panties inside of his tool box to get him condemned. These are things women in movies just don’t do all at once anymore. Again, because the film’s pacing is smooth and uncomplicated, her heinous exploits seem generically run of the mill until taken out of context. As a sexually assaulted parent who thinks that her employee is sexually aroused by her young child, it must have been mortifying to watch daughter Emma (Madeline Zima) cry and defend Solomon (Hudson) so strongly, as that would fit in with the molester/child relationship. Freaky shit, I say.
My few complaints rest in certain plot elements, like the ways Peyton’s true identity is discovered. Marlene doesn’t have the investigative skills of Inspector Clouseau, yet she connects all the dots a tad too quickly. (Marlene also gets to utter the titular line of the movie, taken from the William Wallace poem, which redeems her in my eyes.) Also, the use of the greenhouse in every capacity was too oddball and seemed to have originated in a studio note, saying, “Great job on all the breastfeeding, but can we get the greenhouse in there a little more prominently? My brother builds greenhouses.” Also, I’m entirely suspicious of the fatality suffered within, but Hollywood often follows its own physics.
So after watching the movie again and considering all my options, I figure it’s worth hiring a mentally unstable babysitter if it leaves me the option to stand against her while she’s soaking wet in a nightie. But only if she looks like Rebecca De Mornay. Actually, I’ll start making a list of the actresses I’d allow to mind-fuck my wife and daughter, and you debate adding this movie back into your collection. Hint: if you own the DVD, that’s all you need.
The Blu-ray that has no features is the Blu-ray that stays on the shelf.