Director: Curtis Hanson Starring: Annabella Sciorra, Rebecca De Mornay, Matt McCoy, Ernie Hudson, Julianne Moore, John de Lancie. USA. 1h 50m
After his humble beginnings with 70’s trashy slashers, Curtis Hanson slowly edged his style from layering blood and gore on young people, into something a little more grown up and psychotically sophisticated. Sometimes with a light or heavy edge of noir, his ability to write an engrossing story around a terrifying theme saw the seduction in The Bedroom Window (1987) he then amped up to his two most intense psychotic characters, first Alex (Rob Lowe) in his hard edged Bad Influence (1990) and then two years later he brought a similar, equally deranged and controlling, feminine character to the plate in, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle showing that hell hath no fury as a woman scorned.
Setting this maelstrom thriller to the serene backdrop of Washington, the gorgeous family home, with clean white washed walls and a lush garden, everything is so pure and perfect for a family ready to welcome their second child. Everything goes sour after a routine check up with a pervy OB/GYN Dr. Mott (John de Lancie), feeling that the Dr. was getting off on the check up, Claire (Sciorra) starts a #metoo movement (before Instagram was invented). The story grows and other women speak out resulting in a media frenzy, Dr. Mott commits suicide, leaving his long suffering wife Peyton (De Mornay) to deal with with fall out alone, the stress causes a miscarriage and while recuperating she decides to destroy the woman who ruined her life.
Trust is her weapon. Innocence her opportunity. Revenge her only desire.
The magic works as the audience has seen this build up and unfortunately the innocent family are about to get systematically destroyed piece by piece from the inside out, and I don’t know what kind of person Petyon was before but she was certainly adept at her new career of maniacal home wrecker.
She makes sure she’s the most adorable and loveable person on the surface, each day her harbored hate helps power her through difficult tasks, but she’ll turn from sweet nanny to a hell-beast in a dime, barely skipping a beat as she finds a million ways to gaslight and confuse Claire, her main target. In Peyton’s revenge plan she aims to replace this woman to take everything she has, victim blaming much?
On first watch the film is indeed chilling, to have someone in your home who you trust who has so many possibilities to hurt and kill members of your family is bound to freak out anyone especially new young mothers. There’s already enough fears for women having a younger prettier woman come into the daily home to help with the children this is addressed in a powerful scene where Clare’s best friend, the power suit hard nut Marlene (Moore) warns her to “Never let an attractive woman occupy a power position in your home” and this sets the stage for the films central conflict.
” When your husband makes love to you, it’s MY face he sees. When your baby’s hungry, it’s MY breast that feeds him. Look at you! When push comes to shove… you can’t even breathe!”
While the women are learning their lessons and having their beef, the male aspect of the movie is pretty dumb, Matt Maccoy plays the doting husband Michael, when he’s around he just wants everything to be nice, willing to back up his wife he needs a lot of persuading that something might be wrong, but the brave hero is Ernie Husdon who does a really interesting job at playing a mentally challenged handyman.
This movie, is still so much fun to watch, with characters going about making dumb decisions, being too trusting and attempting to deal with complex life changing issues the wrong way, it straddles, gripping and dumb, it’s just fascinating enough to be a strange blend of The Guardian (1990) and Single White Female delivered by Lifetime. There’s a lot of gender politics which would have been dealt with in a very different way in 2021 than it was in 1992, and just enough cringy death scenes to keep the film interesting in between the disturbing late night breastfeeding, panty planting and husband seduction to make this
Related: Single White Female (1992), The Guardian (1990), The Hand that Rock the Cradle (1917) Lists: Psycho’s in the Home, Along Came a Stranger Spotlight: Julianne Moore Post Discussion