The poster for Nanny creates the sense of a really particular, very acquainted sort of movie by means of an excessive close-up on the face of Aisha, its lead. She appears to be like distressed, her options nonetheless recognizable however evenly distorted by smears that appear to be runny paint or dripping water. It’s simple to image this picture accompanied by discordant music that mines rigidity and dread out of the stillness, supplementing a narrative about how this girl comes undone due to the issues she’s seen. The poster advertises that Nanny is being launched by Blumhouse, a studio primarily identified for high-concept horror. The tagline is “We’re haunted by what we depart behind.”
All these hints that Nanny is a horror film aren’t false promoting: Author-director Nikyatu Jusu consciously makes use of the trimmings of recent horror to form the story. However she’s visibly much less involved with serving jumps and jolts to the viewers than she is in crafting a resonant drama. Jusu paints a wealthy portrait of Aisha’s life as an undocumented Senegalese immigrant and nanny below the thumb of a rich white household, however the horror parts meant to visualise her inside struggles by no means fairly cohere.
Immediately, the movie provides up a way of the stiff dynamic between nanny Aisha (Anna Diop) and her employer, Amy (Michelle Monaghan). The digital camera frames each of them from a distance in an unbroken shot, as Amy arms Aisha an enormous binder of pointers, contact info, meal plans, and extra. Amy isn’t precisely unfriendly, however the digital camera place creates a way of take away, chilling no matter heat she’s attempting to current. It’s nothing terrible — a considerably showy first impression, an air of entitlement. However Amy then steps throughout that skilled boundary by asking for a hug. Aisha is briefly stunned, however she obliges her boss. Amy doesn’t current the request like a requirement, however she doesn’t need to; Aisha was employed to take care of Amy’s younger daughter, Rose (Rose Decker), however she’s hardly able to disclaim the lady in control of her pay — particularly on her first day of labor.
Aisha dutifully data her hours and places the receipts in Amy’s binder, although her fee is in money and in any other case off the books. She’s cheaper than a documented nanny, and he or she’s hardly oblivious to the state of affairs; as an undocumented former schoolteacher, that is merely the most effective avenue she will be able to discover for her skillset. Aisha wants the cash — she’s hoping to deliver her younger son, Lamine, over from Senegal. His absence weighs closely on her, and is made worse by her career: Whereas she bonds with, cares for, and usually lavishes consideration on Rose, her personal son is an ocean away. Aisha’s relationship with Lamine is completely by means of her telephone, in both garbled video chats or recordings of the moments she missed.
Aisha’s guilt over leaving her son behind manifests in unusual visions. Rain pours down indoors. A distant determine stands at a distance in a lake. Spider legs forged a protracted shadow that unfurls like an open maw. Aisha is ready to determine a few of the imagery, telling Rose tales about Anansi the spider, and the way his small measurement requires him to leverage his crafty to outlive. When speaking with an older girl (Deadpool’s Leslie Uggams) who’s extra versed within the supernatural, she learns that Anansi and the mermaid-like water spirit Mami Wata try to speak one thing to her. Aisha is fluent in a number of languages, and instructing them to Rose is a part of her job. However no matter these legendary figures try to inform her is a thriller.
Hallucinations and time loss tied up in guilt and/or trauma is commonplace territory for individuals freaking out in arthouse films. By now, a yr with out one or two cinematic descendants of The Babadook would really feel incomplete. However Nanny stands aside for its imagery, realized with unusual talent and grown out of folkloric roots far faraway from different movies’ standard-issue terrors of shadowy entities pounding on the wall. Whereas Aisha’s visions unsettle her, and are supposed to unsettle viewers by affiliation, they’re subdued and beautiful in the way in which they bathe her in ethereal gentle. There’s a way that the visions may not be so unsettling in any case, if she may solely work out what they imply.
The place one other movie may need centered completely on Aisha’s ache and psychological unraveling, Jusu takes care to point out her protagonist attempting to reside her life and wrest again some management. She vents to a pal about Lamine’s absent father, and strikes up a romance with the constructing’s hunky doorman (Sinqua Partitions), who has a toddler of his personal. She speaks up for herself when her employers neglect to pay her and unpaid time beyond regulation begins to pile up. Amy’s husband, Adam (Morgan Spector), says he’ll “advance” Aisha the fee, and he or she quietly however firmly corrects him: It’s not an advance if it’s what she’s already owed.
Jusu excels at highlighting the uncomfortable energy dynamics at work, permitting Aisha’s relationship together with her employers to be tense and sophisticated somewhat than teetering into overtly sinister territory. There’s no malice in the way in which they deal with Aisha, however her discomfort on the liberties they take and the bounds they overstep is all the time palpable. Amy lends Aisha a costume at one level, insistent that it fits her pores and skin, at the same time as Aisha remarks that it’s a bit tight. Adam’s images adorns the condo in massive, blown-up prints, and he’s keen to speak with Aisha concerning the topics of his artwork and his fame: Black poverty and strife. These interactions superficially recall the awkward “meet the household” moments of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, however the fact of them is cleverly mundane: Her employers really feel so comfortably above her that they don’t have to think about her interiority in any respect.
This dynamic is so properly executed, the truth is, that it’s curious that Jusu even bothered to dabble in horror, given how a lot much less efficient it’s than the drama. Aisha’s creepy visions are the weakest a part of the movie, constructing to an abrupt finish whereas elevating a recurring query: Will an viewers solely sit nonetheless to look at the social perils of a Senegalese immigrant in the event that they’re promised just a few stretches of fearful apartment-wandering in between?
Horror turns into a storytelling crutch when it’s used this fashion, as if it’s the one approach to purge the everyday happily-ever-after expectations of a extra standard movie. The Oscar-bait model of Nanny is as simple to image because the scary one recommended by the poster, maybe retaining Diop’s nuanced lead efficiency, however smothering it in weepy speeches and a theme of advantage rewarded, the place arduous work pays off and the imply characters both see the error of their methods or get what’s coming to them. Horror could really be the one storytelling mode that reliably primes the viewers for this pessimistic model of the story, however Jusu’s in any other case spectacular work suffers when she divides its focus and hides its clearest concepts below style distractions.
Nanny debuts in theaters on Nov. 23 and can stream on Prime Video on Dec. 16.