The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Movie Poster Image
Disturbing thriller about a babysitter; cursing, violence.
  • R
  • 1992
  • 110 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Negative examples show that you should be very careful about whom to trust.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Claire and Michael are good role models for a strong marriage and a close-knit family. Both are loving, fully involved parents, although we don't see Michael interacting much with the baby. Big sister Emma is a good role model for being helpful to her parents and for valuing her own accomplishments and contributions. Peyton is outwardly perfect but is deceitful and manipulative and blindly seeks revenge.

Violence

A woman is shown being sexually molested during a gynecological exam. A dead body impaled by falling glass is shown with lots of blood. Another dead body impaled by fence pickets briefly shows some blood. Suicide is implied by a gunshot heard off camera. A woman having a miscarriage has blood on clothing and on doctors in surgery; the woman cries in pain and fear. A woman roughly twists a child's arm and threatens him; kids who witness it think it's cool because the victim is himself a bully. A few slaps in the face. Implied sexual molestation of a child when the child's underwear is discovered hidden in a tool box. A fight with a shovel, fireplace poker, knife, kicking, punching, and banging a head repeatedly on the floor. Some scariness from characters in danger, dark hallways, and tense music.

Sex

Some kisses between a married couple. Breasts briefly visible during a medical exam. One mention of "blow jobs."

Language

A few instances of "f--k" and variations, "son of a bitch." Some verbal hostility and threats. Name-calling includes "retard."

Consumerism

One scene on location in a Federal Express office.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A secondary character smokes and a main character smokes occasionally, saying one cigarette won't kill him. One character uses asthma inhalers, and the villain is shown tampering with them. One scene takes place in a bar. Adults drink wine with dinner. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a tense drama with thriller elements best for mature teens and up who can handle a depiction of sexual molestation by a doctor, a traumatic miscarriage, and a couple of violent deaths that show blood. Best for mature teens, it's a good opportunity to talk to them about how to be comfortable and safe during physical exams, and what to do if you're not. A suicide is implied by an offscreen gunshot. Strong language is rare but includes a few variations of "f--k." There's verbal hostility, and "retard" is used in name calling. An adult violently twists a child's arm and threatens him, which is seen as "cool" and justified because the child is a bully. Breasts are briefly visible in a medical exam; otherwise sexual content is a few kisses. The Bartel family are all good role models, but overall messages are through negative examples about being careful whom to trust. A secondary character is usually shown smoking.

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What's the story?

In THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, the Bartels decide to hire a nanny for their daughter, Emma, and her new baby brother, Joey. It seems too good to be true when the perfect candidate, Peyton (Rebecca DeMornay), suddenly appears with all the right answers. Everything seems to be working out great, but odd things start to happen that make Claire (Annabella Sciorra) and Michael (Matt McCoy) suspicious and mistrustful of themselves and each other. Is Solomon (Ernie Hudson), the handyman with mental disabilities they recently hired, to blame? Things take a turn for the worse when family friend Marlene (Julianne Moore) starts digging into Peyton's past.

Is it any good?

The strong cast and script take a story that could easily feel like cheap exploitation and raise it high enough to be a decent choice for mature viewers who enjoy squirming as the tension builds. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a fairly quiet, gently paced drama; there are no jump scares here. But director Curtis Hanson manages to build suspense and tension very effectively, even when the audience is fully aware of everything that's going on. Hanson seems to know that the real drama is in watching well-developed characters respond to everyday and highly unusual situations.

Unfortunately, all the tension and suspense build to the only ending Hollywood seems capable of coming up with: violent deaths and a big fight scene. Teens may not mind if they have the patience to wait for the action to pick up. The sexual molestation issues make it best for mature teens, and it's also a good opportunity to talk to your teens about how to be comfortable and safe during physical exams, and what to do when you're not.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about violence in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. How much is too much? Why do so many movies have to end with a big fight scene?

  • How have attitudes and practices changed toward physical exams, gynecological or not, since this movie was made in 1992? What would you have done in Claire's situation with Dr. Mott?

  • What are some of your favorite thrillers? Why do you like them? How does this one compare?

Movie details

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