After the mammoth success of Fatal Attraction, there began a series of films from other studios featuring innocent looking people on the surface who hid their psychopathic tendencies from their intended victims. Whether it was next door neighbors, policemen, roommates, or, in the case of Curtis Hanson’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, a nanny, the resulting films all pretty much followed an expected and eventually predictable pattern of calculated ingratiation followed by escalating manipulation and, naturally, increasing violence as the movie runs. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is neither the best nor worst of these copycats; at its best, it’s delectably suspenseful and at its worst, it’s over-the-top ridiculous.
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (Blu-ray)
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 110 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish, French
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 20.00
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Review Date: August 27, 2012
When nanny Peyton Flanders (Rebecca De Mornay) comes into the lives of Claire (Annabella Sciorra) and Michael (Matt McCoy) Bartel, they can’t believe their luck. What they don’t know is that she’s the widow of the gynecologist (John de Lancie) who committed suicide after being brought up on charges of sexual assault during examinations by five of his patients initiated by Claire Bartel. Peyton begins her plans of destroying the Bartel household almost immediately leading Claire to think she’s losing her mind and Michael to feel her slipping away from him and their two children.
The film’s first two-thirds are undoubtedly the best parts of the picture. Amanda Silver has scripted Peyton’s manipulations skillfully and believably: feeding the baby in the early morning so he wouldn’t want his own mother’s milk, getting the lovable, mentally challenged handyman Solomon (Ernie Hudson) ejected from the household, gaining the trust of older child Emma (Madeline Zima) so she would choose Peyton over her mom, putting doubt in Claire’s mind as to her husband’s faithfulness; these are clever and well thought-out calculations that twist the viewer in knots as we see her hapless victims falling for every one of her deceptions. But then things go awry and logic breaks down in the writing with a planned murder and family friend Marlene Craven (Julianne Moore) learning the truth but only wanting to talk to Claire about it. The carefully laid out suspense collapses like a house of cards even with Curtis Hanson’s smooth, efficient direction that milks the tension as long as the story carefully treads its thin line of believability. (We’ve already been asked to swallow that the widow wouldn’t have been in the newspapers and on the news and that someone in the Bartel family or friends wouldn’t have been able to put a name with a face even if it was six months after the suicide.) There is also a truly inspired bit of counterpoint imagery early on when Peyton suffers her miscarriage alternated with the Bartel family enjoying an outing. The violent final confrontations are exactly what one would expect but are ultimately irritating with the seeming victor pausing to enjoy her triumph instead of finishing off her victims. By then, all viewer good will has long since been lost.
But the actors are fully committed to these roles, and they’re all marvelous. Rebecca De Mornay for a fair amount of the movie manages to retain a small measure of sympathy for her plight despite her insidious plan to harm innocent victims of her husband. Annabella Sciorra transforms herself from confident wife and mother to a scattered, flailing woman trying to get a grip on what’s happening to her. Matt McCoy is the poster boy for loving and faithful husbands, but as a genius-level scientist he might have been a bit more quick on the uptake with things going wrong (even mentioned by his wife as starting once Peyton had moved in). Ernie Hudson gives a brilliant performance as the handyman who never gives up on the family he loves, and Julianne Moore gives a sassy, edifying spin to her determined career woman. Madeline Zima is an adorable child and gives a most effective account of a youngster seeing her parents through different eyes.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 has been presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is very good, and color saturation levels are strong and mostly consistent only occasionally hampered by some fleeting contrast issues on occasion. Flesh tones are true and appealing, and black levels are fine. The film has been divided into 14 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix offers the music score of Graeme Revell the greatest opportunities for surround envelopment. There are some ambient sounds here and there which expand the soundfield and even pan through (an ambulance and other cars) from front to rear on occasion, but these are fleeting, and most of the film is focused toward the front channels. The dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
The theatrical trailer is presented in 480i and runs for 1 ¾ minutes.
The disc contains promo trailers for Frankenweenie and ABC-TV suspense shows.
3/5 (not an average)
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle offers suspenseful moments that occasionally surprise but also follow a very predictable pattern as other movies in this same genre. The Blu-ray transfer offers good video and audio encodes which fans of the movie will undoubtedly appreciate.