Curtis Hanson's 1992 thriller The Hand That Rocks The Cradle was very much a product of its time. With 'sexy thrillers' popular in the early nineties and a trend in cinema seeing a lot of movies made where the family unit was being upset by some outside force, the casting of the beautiful and talented Rebecca De Mornay was all a lot of us needed to have our interest piqued, but the movie holds up well on more levels than one even if it is a bit on the predictable side.
The story takes place in Seattle, Washington where Michael Bartel (Matt McCoy) and his wife Claire (Annabella Sciorra) are expecting their second child. Michael works as an engineer and makes a good living for the two of them and their young daughter, Emma (Madeline Zima). Everything seems to be coming up roses for the family and they're all looking forward to the impending arrival of their new addition. Their lucky streak comes to an end when Claire goes in for a checkup with Doctor Mott (John de Lancie, who abuses the alone time he has with the poor women and lets his hands wander where he shouldn't have. She and Michael take him to court and in the impending legal wrangling, others come out until his practice is ruined. When he dies shortly after, his wife, who also happens to be pregnant, is left penniless.
A few months later and Claire has given birth to a healthy, happy little boy they name Joey. The family is still busy and Claire is intent on working on her green house. They decide to hire a nanny and into their lives comes a woman named Peyton Flanders (Rebecca De Mornay), the perfect candidate for the job who has seemingly appeared out of nowhere. They hire her without a second thought and before you know it, she's almost a like a member of the family. In fact, she might be getting a little too close with Michael for Claire's liking, eventually convincing Claire that her husband is cheating on her with family friend (and his ex-girlfriend) Marlene (Julianne Moore), a woman married to their friend Marty (Kevin Skousen). As Peyton worms her way through the Bartel's lives, her behavior starts to become more aggressive and more sinister until lives of Claire and her family seem to be in some pretty serious danger. Thankfully there's the family's handyman, Solomon (Ernie Hudson), hanging around to help. He knows more than anyone realizes.
If not the best thriller of the decade in which it was made, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle holds up well once you get past the fact that the Bartel's seem to have some trouble picking up on the obvious. There are few too many telltale signs about who Claire is and why she's there for any right minded individual to not become suspect, and that does hurt the storyline a bit. Once we work past that and just accept it for what it is, however, the movie is solid entertainment. We get some pretty great performances here - Sciorra is very good as the rightfully concerned wife/mother and McCoy does fine as the somewhat unwitting husband. While Hudson's character comes dangerously close to a negative stereotype, he manages to make his Solomon both interesting and completely sympathetic and he's quite good in the role. This is more or less De Monray's show, however, and it's her performance more than the others that we remember. She's able to switch back and forth between calm and completely balanced to unhinged and off her rocker pretty quickly and pretty convincingly, and she's got enough sex appeal here that, yeah, it makes perfect sense that she'd be cast in this part. She's right for it.
The movie builds to a very satisfying conclusion, offering some strong moments of intrigue and suspense along the way. We get a few good scares and the pacing is good throughout. The movie is shot with enough style that it always looks good and the camerawork is fluid and eye catching, as is the use of color throughout the movie. If this isn't a movie that reinvents the genre or turns convention on its head, it is, regardless, a very entertaining and well made picture that's definitely worth watching at least once.
The Hand That Rocks The Cradle arrives on Blu-ray in a very nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 and maintaining the film's original aspect ratio. While there are a few spots here and there that look to have been shot just a little bit on the soft side, clarity and detail are generally very strong throughout the film. Colors look nice and natural and skin tones are realistic and never waxy. Aside from a couple of barely noticeable white specks that pop up here and there you won't notice much in the way of print damage at all and there are no issues with aggressive edge enhancement or noise reduction anywhere to be seen. Compression artifacts are a non-issue while texture and depth are strong throughout playback.
The primary mix here is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, but French and Spanish options are provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with subtitles offered in English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish. The 5.1 mix does some very impressive work with the score here, spreading it out very effectively and really letting it envelope you once the more tension filled moments start to play out. Levels are balanced nicely and the dialogue stays nice and clear. Rear channels are very infrequently, however, but while this isn't as aggressive as a modern action movie might sound on Blu-ray, the mix is solid. Dialogue stays easy to follow and the levels are properly balanced. Bass response is strong without overpowering anyone and there are no issues with hiss or distortion to note.
Extras are limited to a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few unrelated properties, menus and chapter selection.
The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is a bit on the predictable side but it's still a fun and periodically very tense thriller that benefits from a couple of good performances and a few memorable set pieces even if it isn't something you're probably going to watch over and over again. The Blu-ray release from Buena Vista is very light on extras (a director commentary might have been interesting) but it looks and sounds very good. If you're an establish fan of the movie, consider this release recommended, otherwise this makes for a very good rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.