A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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?
- In theaters: January 10, 1992
- On DVD or streaming: December 8, 1998
- Cast: Annabella Sciorra, Rebecca DeMornay, Ernie Hudson, Julianne Moore
- Director: Curtis Hanson
- Studio: Buena Vista
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Terror, violence, a scene of sexual molestation, and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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