Picks and Pans Review: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

Annabella Sciorra, Rebecca De Mornay

This is not a movie for mothers of young children or for couples with pretty, live-in nannies. It’s not for people with a low threshold for silliness, for those who expect a thriller to pack at least one wallop or for those who can suspend disbelief for only so long.

Does that cover everyone? The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, though it positions itself as chilling suspense, is not even mildly scary; it’s just offensive. This “natal attraction” centers on Peyton Flanders (De Mornay), a beautiful young woman who poses as a nanny to exact revenge on Claire Bartel (Sciorra), a woman she blames (for reasons too involved to explain here) for the suicide of her husband and for her own resulting miscarriage and hysterectomy. She moves into the lovely, tranquil Seattle home where Claire lives with her husband, Michael, her adolescent daughter, Emma, and new-born son, Joe, and quickly takes over, seemingly a combination of Mary Poppins, Julia Child and Heloise.

In fact she’s an Iago in tight skirts who turns young Emma (charmingly played by Madeline Zima) against her mother, tries to seduce Michael (Matt McCoy), tries to frame him for adultery and successfully frames the Bartels’ retarded black handyman for child molestation.

And, folks, she is just warming up. Not that audiences will be surprised by a single plot turn; the screenplay signifies its intentions with the subtlety of a blowtorch. Worse, it unleashes every stereotype about black men, gynecologists, the easy susceptibility of long-married men whose wives have just given birth, and female competitiveness.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, which bears a rather striking resemblance to The Baby Sitter, a 1980 TV movie, does offer one welcome innovation: When a principal character is killed, she stays down for the count, rather than springing back to life like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and Patrick Bergin in Sleeping with the Enemy. You decide if that’s worth seven bucks. (R)

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