The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a low-key thriller that will make baby boomers double-check the references of any prospective nanny. First screenplay by Amanda Silver, who is the granddaughter of the late, great screenwriter Sidney Buchman, trades in the same devil woman theme that anchored Fatal Attraction, with the sanctity of the traditional family unit as the villain’s target.
Pleasant existence of pregnant Seattle housewife Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra) is disrupted when her new gynecologist crosses the proper boundaries during an exam. With the encouragement of her husband Michael (Matt McCoy), Claire files charges, upon which the doctor commits suicide.
Medic’s demise sends his pregnant wife into hysterics, causing her to lose her baby. Cut to six months later, and this woman (Rebecca DeMornay), who now calls herself Peyton, turns up to offer her services as nanny to the Bartels. They readily take her in, and the viewer knows the screw will soon begin turning.
Helmer has obtained taut, impressive performances, notably from cast women. A totally deglamorized Sciorra becomes unglued subtly and slowly, eliciting sympathy without begging for it. DeMornay, her Miss Congeniality exterior masking evil intent, is an ice queen viewers will enjoy watching get hers in the end.