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‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 10, 1992

Rebecca De Mornay is the nanny from hell in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," a luridly efficient thriller that targets a particularly vulnerable audience in expectant, new or busy mothers. Basically De Mornay is Glenn Close with baby lust and oh my God it's "Fetal Attraction."

Directing from Amanda Silver's film school thesis turned screenplay, Curtis Hanson sets out to muddy, if not altogether dismantle, the mommy track. A tale of child care turned to baby-napping, it exacts from working women a costly emotional ransom. It's hard to imagine that any mother would enjoy the film, particularly if she's left the kids with a stacked blond babysitter. She looked so sweet ...

Well, that's what Claire (Annabella Sciorra) thought when she hired Peyton (De Mornay), a lovely maniac posing as the ideal mother's helper. Perhaps the most unsympathetic villainess since the Alien, Peyton sets out to destroy Claire, whom she blames for her husband's suicide and the consequent miscarriage of her child.

Claire, a sublimely happy wife-mother-botanist with a full life, is easily manipulated by the crafty Peyton, who quickly wins the affection of her husband (Matt McCoy) and her 5-year-old daughter Emma (Madeline Zima). Most disturbing of all, the new baby rejects Claire's attempt to breast-feed him because Peyton has been wet-nursing him herself. None of this would have happened if Claire hadn't wanted time to herself to build a greenhouse.

Claire does have one ally in the endearing Solomon (Ernie Hudson), a mentally challenged handyman who is easily outmaneuvered by the scheming nanny. But we've got this feeling that he'll be back when Claire, Emma and Baby need him most. In fact, we're always anticipating Peyton's next move in this practiced script. The movie is so solidly structured, the director might have been working from a floor plan.

Hanson, who also directed the Hitchcock-styled thrillers "Bad Influence" and "The Bedroom Window," doesn't win much spontaneity from De Mornay or Sciorra. Their choices seem stock set against Julianne Moore's acerbic turn as Claire's best friend, who cautions: "Never let an attractive woman take a power position in your home."

This anti-feminist parable is both a labor and a pain.

"The Hand that Rocks the Cradle" is rated R for violence and strong language.

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