Friday, January 13, 2017
Guess What Film Turns 25 This Year??????????????????
Can you believe it has been 25 years--a quarter century--since 1992???????? That was when Hollywood put out its "Woman From Hell" movies. And the very first one, "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle," opened this very month, three days ago, to be exact.
The film probes socio-political issues, especially among women, the same way "Fatal Attraction" did. The screenwriter, Amanda Silver, wrote it, and submitted it as her thesis. Not everyone's thesis gets filmed, darlings! But this one did.
The plot is deceptively simple--home invasion by a deranged, vengeful personality. But the political dynamics of this movie, which aren't so much skewered as all over the place, make the movie unsettling. The first time I saw it, I was so disturbed that, today, I can only watch certain portions, avoiding others.
Most of the others are within the first ten minutes of the film, which sets the whole thing up, going back and forth between the lives of Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra) and Mrs. Mott (Rebecca De Mornay, in what came to be her signature performance). Now, having seen the trailer, and most of us did, back in 1992, it is no secret that Rebecca's character, an alias (or is it?) called Peyton Flanders, is the one to watch out for. But, I swear, the opening ten minutes are so calculatedly contrived, that, until she infiltrates the house, I felt genuine sympathy for Peyton.
Start with this. She is married to a handsome, successful gynecologist, Dr. Victor Mott (John De Lancie, in a brief, but genuinely creepy performance). They live in one of the ugliest houses I have ever seen; they can be faulted for lack of taste, but not funds! As the saying goes, she has the world on a string. But that will soon end.
Because her husband is a creep, who gets his jollies when he examines his female patients. One day, he messes with the wrong woman, Claire. She reports him, and others come forward. Mott is through. Thinking only of himself, and not his wife and unborn child, he shoots himself. And his wife's life turns into a nightmare.
She loses everything--her home, her assets. (hubby's are tied up in litigation) and, most importantly, her child. Not only that, she has to undergo an emergency hysterectomy, eliminating the prospect of future births. To watch the decline of this woman is horrible and heartbreaking; personally I think Silver intentionally piles it on too thick. She is trying to explain the woman's psychosis, when, in truth, anyone would have been unhinged by having all of this thrown at them, at once. By the time things settle down, and Mrs. Mott is shown glaring at the image of Claire on a TV news story, she transitions from victim to psychopath, and while I don't endorse what follows, it cannot escape me that this woman is in pain.
The real action begins six months later. Silver, having piled it on in the beginning, then goes vague, leaving the audience to question--how did she pull herself together? How did she live, support herself????? And, most importantly, did she, could she have known, the truth about her husband all along? Pay attention to that last question. I will return to it later.
I love the shot of Peyton as she approaches the house, the look of malevolence on her face already apparent. The Bartels have no idea what they are in for.
Plus, the way Silver writes her female characters is supposed to be empowering, yet really falls back on the same old corn. There is the disturbed, now unmarried, career woman, who wants a family, the traditional housewife who has one, but seems to spend more time with her gardening aspirations than the kids, and, in an early performance that livens the action, a young Julianne Moore as a career bitch on wheels--Marlene Craven. Thank God for Julianne. One of the biggest mistakes was killing her off. The underlying tension between she and Peyton in their mini-showdown is so palpable you wanted to see more between them. Marlene eats people for breakfast, but is outwitted by Peyton's understated psychosis.
Rebecca De Mornay should have received as much praise as Glenn Close did for "Fatal Attraction." Peyton is chillingly understated and subtle, speaking often barely above a whisper. "Do you really thinks so?" she answers a mother, when the former replies that baby Joey has her (Peyton's) eyes. The delivery is so chilling, it is moments like these (and when she enters the baby's room with a pillow) where the film is at its best, reduced to predictability in the nevertheless almost fun filled climax when Peyton turns lethal.
And that is when I arrived at my conclusion--that Peyton knew all along about her husband, and did not care. Just as long as she had it good. Remember, there is a reference to her being an orphan, and, feeling deprived, I think she became narcissistic. Mott is clearly such, so two like personalities are drawn to each other. Had things not fallen apart, Peyton might have stayed under wraps. But, Mott was gambling with career illegality, so it had to catch up to him, sometime.
I can recall the exact moment when I realized all this. It is when Peyton begins to menace Emma, whom, up till now, she has concealed her agenda from. But, having lost it, Peyton does not really care about Emma, and the child senses it. Peyton cares about Peyton! Which is when Emma goes into action! Yay, Emma!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That name, Peyton Flanders. Hmmmm....is that her real first name? Was Flanders her maiden name? She alludes, at one point, to having been an orphan, another way of explaining her extreme attachment disorder. Silver cannot make up her mind where she stands on Peyton, wanting to have her cake, as a writer, and eat it, too. And this is why "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" is so messed up in its sexual politics. No matter how they behave and act, or don't, the female characters are demeaned. The career bitch gets killed, the housewife has asthma. and is really no match for anyone. Only Emma (Madeline Zima, in a film debut, that resulted in her being cast as Gracie on "The Nanny") shows some resourcefulness; I love the look on her face between she and Claire, just before she crashes into Peyton. "Go ahead, Mom; get her!" Emma seems to be saying. Hell, I would have just let Emma and Solomon handle things. They had it under control more than Claire.
This film made a ton of money. It is still remembered for De Mornay's performance, but I can never forgive Amanda Silver for piling Pelion on Osa.
For those who have seen and know it, think about what I said. For those who haven't, watch the trailer, which basically encapsulates the entire movie. Even, stupidly, to the point of showing how it ends; that is clearly Peyton crashing out that window, and onto the roof.
The person who put this trailer together should have been fired, or forced to design a new one.
Does the film still hold up, after twenty five years? Yes, for as much as it can.
And I just realized. This was released by Touchstone Pictures. Wasn't that a subsidiary of Disney????? Hmmmmmmmmm........
Maybe it should be re-released, on a double bill, with "Mary Poppins."