Written by: Amanda Silver
Starring: Annabella Sciorra, Rebecca De Mornay, Matt McCoy, Ernie Hudson, Julianne Moore
Putting the care of one’s child in the hands of another comes as a scary and disheartening process for any parent, yet it becomes a reality for people who cannot afford to have one of the parents stay home. It means the parent then has to put a lot of trust in a potential stranger in helping care for the child, but if any parent has hesitation, I would not encourage them to watch The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. A narrative that serves as nothing but nightmare fuel through its suspense.
Now with their second child, Claire (Annabella Sciorra) and Michael (Matt McCoy) decide it’s time to hire a nanny to look after their new baby. They hire Mrs. Mott (Rebecca De Mornay), who seems like the perfect caretaker of their child until they begin to discover her intentions may not be so pure.
Thrilling as it is silly, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle puts together the worst-case scenario of who one could hire to look after their child. Imagine if you had ruined someone’s life in more than one way without knowing it and this person also has a secret vendetta they want to inflict upon you. Probably someone you want to stay away from generally, but imagine then unknowingly hiring that person to look after your newborn child. The fun comes from the havoc and this feature brings plenty of it to make for an entertaining ride.
As audience members, we get to sit in the role of the omniscient viewer already knowing the history of all the characters and how they are related. However, Claire and Michael do not know the intentions of Mott, which makes her manipulation a horror show for us as we know everything from our point of view. With each moment of manipulation, we want to scream at the characters to notice specific things indicating Mott has some heinous intentions for the Bartel family.
Within this manipulation is where the film finds its bread and butter as Mott navigates through this story both as a sweet nanny but also a vicious and vindictive person willing to kill in order to get what she wants. Mott navigates through these two identities throughout the feature almost too well in order to get in the necessary positions to strike. She can play the victim whenever she needs to and then will snap when she can pounce. It becomes a game of cat and mouse with Mott representing the former and everyone else the unknowing latter. So many lies and deception allow Mott to truly get under the skin of Claire without her even knowing it and we’re just left taking it all in and waiting for when the new mother figures it all out before it’s too late.
With the thrills come the cheesiness with several aspects of the filmmaking lacking at times. A particular scene in a greenhouse comes to mind where it could have been more sinister but instead made me chuckle with the particular framing of the scene. I’m still trying to figure out if those directorial choices came with purpose with part of this story feeling a bit campy, but the inconsistency of it leaves me on the fence of fully leaning to one side or the other. Hey, even if it comes across as a bit funny, it still elicits some sort of emotion, which I still say is a plus.
Several aspects of this feature have certainly not aged well, which centers on the treatment of the character of Solomon (Ernie Hudson). While the intention of the screen presence of this character and his interactions with Mott remains clear, the clunkiness to which the scenes are stitched together leaves plenty to be desired, which falls back on the direction. Other moments also will raise your eyebrows and remind you this movie definitely came out in 1992 and does not necessarily work for today’s standards, but it ultimately lands exactly what it wants from a narrative perspective and as a whole, works.
Enjoyable for all of its warts and greatness, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle has its funnily tense moments while also delivering some genuinely strained moments. It preys on the fear of parents entrusting the care of their child to a stranger and dials it up to 100 to pretty much ensure parents will never leave their kids out of their sight. Very fun as an entertaining little thriller and one that gets sloppy in the best ways for the sake of creating a wickedly beguiling experience.