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Featured Blu-ray Review: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

September 22nd, 2012

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was a major hit in its day. Earning $88 million in 1992 is like earning more than $150 million today. So it is a little strange that the original DVD release only has a theatrical trailer as an extra. Is the Blu-ray better? More importantly, did the film deserve its initial box office success? And does it remain effective today?

The Movie

We first meet the Bartel family, Claire and Michael and Emma, as they are one happy family. Claire is pregnant with her second child and looking for a little work to be done around the house. They hire Solomon, who is a little slow, but kind. Their initial meeting is not the best, but he quickly proves to be a good worker. Life is good for the Bartels... until Claire has to go to the doctor.

Claire's old doctor retired, so she had to see a replacement, Dr. Victor Mott, but during her visit, he sexually molests her. At first she doesn't know what to do, but after talking to her husband, she goes to the medical review board. It could have been a he said / she said deal, but when her complaint becomes public, more women step forward with the same complaint and the matter is handed over to the district attorney. In order to avoid a courtroom battle, the doctor kills himself. That isn't the end of the story, as Dr. Mott has a pregnant wife, Mrs. Mott. Because he committed suicide, she will get no life insurance. And because the estate is being sued, his assets are frozen, meaning she will be kicked out of her house after she gives birth. The stress of this is too much and she not only loses the baby, but complications from the miscarriage leave her infertile. While recovering in the hospital, she learns it was Claire who made the first complaint, and even though Claire is the only victim to not sue, Mrs. Mott decides to get revenge.

Six months later, the Bartel household is doing well. Their new baby, Joey, is happy and healthy. Claire, Michael, and Emma are adjusting very well. Even Solomon is still working for them. (Although Claire doesn't trust him enough to hold the baby.) There is some discussion about needing extra help around the house, and eventually Claire and Michael agree to hire a nanny.

This is where Mrs. Mott's plan for revenge comes into play. She goes under the name Peyton Flanders and gets herself hired as the nanny, and while she's the nanny, she will... that's where we should leave off, as we've reached spoiler territory.

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a film that is really close to being really effective, but doesn't quite get there. The setup is a little lurid, but it does its job. It sets up a reason for Mrs. Mott to despise Claire to the point of mental illness. Her plan is a little complicated, which does strain suspension of disbelief at times. Okay, her plan is Cartoon-Super-Villain level crazy, so would have a roughly zero percent chance of working in the real world, and it takes so long to get going. The acting is a major asset for the film. Rebecca DeMornay brings a lot of to the role as the woman looking for revenge. While the plan is crazy, she manages to pull off a more controlled level of evil. Annabella Sciorra brings a good balance as the wife and mother struggling to understand why her family seems to be falling apart. Ernie Hudson, Julianne Moore, and even Madeline Zima are all good in their performances. Matt McCoy is stuck with a role that doesn't give him much chance to show off his acting skills.

On a side note, there were some critics at the time who thought this film was offensive because it pitted a modern woman, Mrs. Mott, against a more traditional stay at home mother, Claire, and was therefore seen by some as an attack on modern feminism and a desire to return to more traditional gender roles. In the screenwriter's defense, if they had the skill to create a story that deep, they would have been able to come up with a better plan for Mrs. Mott. In reality, I think it was just a film that preyed on someone's fear of letting a stranger in their home to look after their kids.

The Extras

It's the 20th anniversary of a film that was wildly profitable during its initial theatrical release, and the Blu-ray has just the trailer. Sad. The video is good, for a catalogue title. The level of detail is high, while the grain is low. Colors are strong, blacks are deep, there's no signs of digital manipulation or compression issues. It won't wow you, but it is good for the type of film. The audio is pretty much front and center. The dialogue is clear and that's the most important part of the audio track. The Blu-ray costs $15, which is too high for a featureless catalogue Blu-ray release.

The Verdict

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle has a good setup and a lot of good acting, but the overall effect is mixed, because film has pacing issues and it strains suspension of disbelief a little too much. It's still worth checking out, but the featureless Blu-ray is only worth a rental.

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