“Is this fence to keep people out..or to keep people in?” This is the question posed to home owners Claire and Steven as the film opens. A seemingly perfect couple with a sweet daughter and baby on the way. They’ve enlisted Solomon, a mentally challenged man from the Better Way Society to build them a new fence. Not just any fence, a perfect, white, picket fence. It symbolizes an ideal setting, and protection, but will go on to represent much more. Claire’s answer to the question: “Well, both I guess. But mostly to keep people out”. The irony of the Hand that Rocks the Cradle lies within the fact that the unknown terrors she’s trying to keep at bay will not only be close, but welcomed and invited in by Claire herself.
Immediately, we’re introduced to this lovely family. But as we know, a perfect life never equates to smooth sailing. If you’re a happy couple (especially with a baby on the way), in a sexy thriller, the chances of something jeopardizing that happiness is not only likely, it’s inevitable. In this case, trouble for the Bartels begins when nine months pregnant Claire goes to see a new gynecologist. At the appointment, she’s assaulted and traumatized in a scene that’s disturbing and terrifying for any woman whose ever had an OBGYN appointment.
After the incident, she comes forward, leading to a string of others reporting similar ordeals. From there, the downward spiral is quick. The doctor is charged and promptly commits suicide. We’re given a sliver into his own life. Apparently, the doctor’s wife was also nine months pregnant with their baby. However, at the funeral a miscarriage forces her to lose the child. Meanwhile, The Bartel’s move on. Their baby has arrived, and the fence is coming along. However, the trajectory of events, oblivious to them but not us, have already begun unfolding.
Enter Peyton, the dead doctor’s wife. She’s out for revenge on the woman she feels stole her ‘perfect life’. But this payback won’t come via stalking, in your face terrorizing, or some random, brutal assault. Much like a vampire, Peyton’s plot will only work if she’s invited in by Claire herself. For Peyton, this isn’t about the kill, but the hunt. It’s not about scaring Claire, or even hurting her (yet), but about becoming her instead. Portraying kindness and care in the safety of the home while simultaneously trying to infiltrate and take a life she deems rightfully her own.
After several tricks, she’s hired as the live in nanny. In a world before social media and constant online footprints, background checking wasn’t as simple. Even still, it’d seem Claire does little to check references. And if she has, Peyton has likely faked them. In fact, we know very little about the new nanny. Including the premeditated plan conceived earlier that we’ll soon see unfold. We have no clue what kind of life her and the doctor led, other than living in a large, modern, cold feeling home. A stark contrast to the warm, homey feeling of the Bartel family. We don’t know if she was always crazy, or if this awful chain of events led to a psychotic break. All we know is, she’s desperate to be a mother. Envy is a very powerful drug, and this idea is the theme of the Hand that Rocks the Cradle.
Soon after immersing herself in the family, that desperation, like a wound, begins to grow and fester. Almost immediately, Peyton begins breastfeeding the infant. Another horrific scenario for any new, unknowing mom. Manipulation continues in subtle, successfully devious ways. A stained sexy dress forces Claire to wear a frumpy look on her night out. A Fed-ex package she’s responsible for mysteriously goes missing. She’s even convinced, (through nonchalant, clever verbiage) that her husband’s cheating with his ex; also one of their best friends. Incidentally a young, super feisty, red-headed Julianne Moore. Also the only one with doubts about the wonderful new live in nanny. So much so that it leads to that potentially cringe worthy moment of any film when the title is mentioned. In this case, Moore pulls it off with perfect accuracy.
Claire finally becomes suspicious, leading up to one of the most creative murders in sexy thriller history. Once Peyton’s identity is discovered, she’s thrown out. By then, though, the maniacal wheels have been set in motion and she’ll stop at nothing to procure the family. In fact, their actual opinions seem meaningless to her. Did she ever even find Steven attractive or interesting, or were those details inconsequential. It would certainly seem, the latter. When Peyton returns to wreck havoc, Claire’s finally ready to stand up for herself.
Ultimately, there is another underlying topic at play here. The power of motherhood. The moms who appear to have it all, the ones who want it, those who are crazy, calm, and how it all intersects. The men in Hand that Rocks the Cradle feel unimportant, (except for Solomon, who will wind up playing a pivotal role). Mostly, they act as representations of good vs evil. The perils of a dangerous doctor, and the cliche of the nice guy. One who fits the ‘good husband, great father’ motif, but also kind of lacks passion. It’s Claire who stands up against the doctor (though at Steven’s urging.) And it’s Claire who fights for her family. In a world where men still dominate, and women are finding their voice more and more, let’s go back and celebrate a movie that illustrates the power of the matriarchy. And what we’re willing to do to fight for it.
Rent it on DVD Netflix now
This post partners with DVD.Netflix.com where you can find thousands of movies. As a DVD Nation ambassador I share a love of movies and earn rewards. All writing and ideas expressed are my own.