The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992) – A Review


Rebecca De Mornay is the nanny from hell who sets out to destroy Annabella Sciorra’s life in the 1992 thriller The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, directed by Curtis Hanson.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle 1992 Rebecca De Mornay Ernie Hudson

Pregnant Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra) is sexually assaulted by her new gynecologist. She reports him, other patients step forward revealing the same stories and he kills himself because of the ugly scandal and his ruined reputation. As a result his own pregnant wife (Rebecca De Mornay) suffers a miscarriage due to the stress her life just took.

Fast forward six month later, Claire has had her new baby and that gynecologist’s widow is out for revenge against the woman she blames for her husbands death and the loss of her own baby.

Posing as wholesome and innocent ‘Peyton Flanders’, she gets hired by the Bartel’s to be their new live-in nanny. They have no idea what an angry crazed woman they just let into their house and how driven she is on destroying their lives.

Yet another psycho, stalker flick that were flooding cinemas in the post-Fatal Attraction years. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle was a popular hit, satisfied audiences and gave De Mornay one of her best and most memorable roles of her career.

Rebecca De Mornay Annabella Sciorra The Hand That Rocks The Cradle 1992 thrillerWatching it today although it feels overrated and predictable and not as potent as it once was to 1992 audiences, (the obsessed psycho formula today is about as groundbreaking an idea as a cop buddy movie) it still plays rather well.

It is effectively manipulative, has some unsettling scenes and De Mornay as the remorseless, evil nanny makes the movie. With her icy stares, innocent charade and outbursts of rage she easily becomes the star of this.

The plot is old hat, but the execution is better than most of these psycho obsession flicks. It’s a nice slow burn as little by little De Mornay upsets this wholesome family in their beautiful house in some pretty creepy and sometimes outlandish ways. De Mornay is a big reason why the film ends up being as entertaining as it is and her performance is a big reason why it was such a hit when it first released.

Director Cutis Hanson milks the suspense for all its worth. Most of the film is relatively grounded and Peyton’s dirty deeds are small, but a believable way of her fracturing this family – placing troubling seeds of doubt in Claire’s mind about her family and friends, framing their mentally challenged handyman, steering their daughters’ perspective of her parents into the negative zone.

One simple but really unsettling act she does is breastfeeding their newborn herself. I always remembered that and thought it was so disturbing when I first saw this movie. That one still it gives me the willies.

Annabella Sciorra Matt McCoy The Hand That Rocks The Cradle 1992Gradually things escalate and some much needed suspension of disbelief is needed to go along with it. Accept it and it’s an ok ride.

Like, if you’re going to overthink how easily Claire hires this new nanny, with no questions, no background checks, no referrals and just invites her into her home to care for her family, you might as well bail from the get go. You just have to accept that the Bartel family’s trusting and naiveté are off the charts.

I always thought it was really a nutty premise that the big reason Claire requires a nanny is because she’s building a greenhouse in her backyard. She’s just going to be way too busy with this project to give her full attention to her new baby.

That necessitates having a full-time caregiver to your newborn??? A greenhouse? Couldn’t she just put the greenhouse on hold for awhile? Does she plan to work on this thing 24-hours a day? Isn’t Ernie Hudson building a fence a big enough project for the yard for right now? I think they could have come up with a more weighty reason why Peyton is invited in.

The cast all deliver on what they’re needed to do. Sciorra, Matt McCoy, Julianne Moore, Hudson all do very well with their roles (Hudson as the mentally challenged handy man is particularly good), but it’s tough for them to compete with De Mornay’s more showy role. You’re not going to be talking about any of them after seeing. De Mornay is the one that leaves the lasting impression.


4 thoughts on “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992) – A Review

  1. Nice review. IMO this is Mornay’s defining role and she probably never did anything as memorable again. As you mentioned this film came along during the psycho stalker boom of the early 90s, this film, Sleeping With The Enemy, Single White Female, Deceived to name a few. All of them box office sleeper gold with memorable titles and unmemorable films, till Mother’s Boys with Jamie Lee Curtis headlining as the psycho put the genre in hiatus till Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut The Gift. No doubt there were other films of this genre still being churned out, the Dan Steven’s starring thriller The Guest is a hilarious take on it, but Edgerton’s film not only gave the genre its best film but it also made it suspenseful and engaging film, whilst successfully putting men at the centre of the film. Despite its unbeliveable ending The Gift is a well acted film with Edgerton playing against type as the meek ‘perpretrator’ whilst Jason Bateman also playing against type as a bullying, horrid alpha male. If you haven’t seen it, I’d strongly recommend it.

    1. I’ll have to check out the The Gift and The Guest, haven’t seen either one. I did recently watch Mother’s Boys, a review of that will be coming up soon. :o)

  2. I have a question regarding this film. Were the “good” people in this film really that good?

    I find that the psycho – stalker films are always proportional to how flawed the “heroes” are. The more flawed the victim the more satisfying the movie. For example, in Fatal Attraction, the main character was an adulterer. In Single White Female, the main character was weak. In Cape Fear, the whole family where a bunch of flawed human beings.

    I also tried to bring this up during the Boy Next Door review. I thought that movie could have made Jenny Lopez more of a self-pitying mess. After her ordeal, the psycho was supposed to snap her out of it.

    In a sense, the psycho is supposed to be the Reckoning. They’re the ones who punish the characters and force them to confront their inner demons. Once they fully atone for their sins, and then confront the psycho and get them out of their lives.

    Would you say that happened in this movie?

    1. You make an excellent point! In Cradle, I would say the family is anything but flawed. They’re almost saintly. It starts with Annabelle already being the victim by DeMornay’s husband long before she even shows up.

      It does make it more of an interesting story if the persecuted has something that makes them in someway deserving for the terror to be rained down on them. Mother’s Boys (which I recently watched) is kind of the same thing, they’re pretty innocent throughout and just terrorized only because of an unstable mother.

      Now you got me thinking of Pacific Heights and I can’t remember if Modine and Griffith were just entirely good or if they had done something to warrant Keaton’s evil attention.

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