"The Tie That Binds" is an attempt to recapture the spirit of "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," which was itself simply a more sophisticated variation on the slasher genre.
In this case, however, Strick (working from a script by first-timer Michael Auerbach) overplays his hand and underdevelops his characters.
As the film begins, it appears that Daryl Hannah and Keith Carradine, as a pair of homeless serial killers, along with their young daughter (newcomer Julia Devin) will be the film's focus. (Carradine tries to punch up his character with some sick humor, but he comes off like a low-rent Jack Nicholson.)
Their stock in trade seems to be terrorizing homeowners while stealing food, then taking Polaroid photographs of the victims before (and maybe after) slaughtering them. The girl, meanwhile, cowers in the car and apparently has had little, if any, social interaction with anyone other than her parents.
But early in the film, one of the crime-sprees is interrupted by police, and while Hannah and Carradine escape, their daughter is taken into custody. It is at this point that we meet another young couple, stable but childless Moira Kelly and Vincent Spano, who decide to adopt a child. And, of course, the child they adopt is Devin.
The rest of the film primarily consists of Hannah and Carradine terrorizing the policeman who took their daughter and the social worker who placed her in a foster home, before they finally get around to a showdown with Kelly and Spano.
READER ADVISORY: I am about to give away a key aspect of the film's climax - so if you plan to see this picture and don't want the ending spoiled, don't finish this review.
In the end, it is the young daughter who is called upon to kill her father, stabbing him with a knife, and it serves to confirm the film's most gratuitous tendencies. Yes, I cringed but not because I was caught up in the film.
I'm not crazy about child-in-peril subplots in commercial horror or action pictures, much less an entire child-in-peril movie. But I found this moment and another that occurs earlier in the film, as a newborn infant is placed in peril to be quite reprehensible.
After all, there is no "Bad Seed" element here, nothing to indicate that this young girl has violent tendencies.
We know nothing about the background of Devin or Hannah or Carradine, but to have the child kill one of her parents, and then to simply fade out with a let's-go-back-and-live-a-happy-life-together ending, is just too much.
"The Tie That Binds" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity and profanity.