poster for Nanny gives the feeling of a very specific, very familiar movie genre through a close-up shot of the face of Aisha, its lead. She looked distressed, her features still recognizable but slightly distorted by smudges that looked like melted paint or water dripping. It’s easy to picture this image accompanied by discord music creating tension and fear from the stillness, complementing the story of how this woman undoes the things she sees. Promotional poster that Nanny being published by Blumhouse, a studio mainly known for high concept horror. The tagline is “We are obsessed with what we leave behind.”
All those suggestions Nanny is a horror film not false advertising: Writer and director Nikyatu Jusu consciously uses the pitfalls of modern horror to shape the story. But it’s clear that she’s less interested in serving audiences with jumps and jerks than in creating a hit drama. Jusu paints a rich portrait of Aisha’s life as an undocumented Senegalese immigrant and nanny under the thumbs of a wealthy white family, but the horror elements aim to Visualizing her inner struggles is never completely coherent.
Immediately, the film gives a sense of the intense dynamic between nanny Aisha (Anna Diop) and her owner, Amy (Michelle Monaghan). The camera frames both of them from a distance in one seamless shot, as Amy hands Aisha a large brochure, contact information, meal plans, etc. Amy isn’t exactly unfriendly, but the camera position creates a sense of distance, chilling whatever warmth she’s trying to show. Nothing terrible – a slightly ostentatious first impression, an air of entitlement. But Amy then crossed that career line by asking for a hug. Aisha was briefly taken aback, but she did as her boss said. Amy doesn’t present the request as a request, but she doesn’t have to; Aisha is hired to look after Amy’s young daughter, Rose (Rose Decker), but it’s hard for her to turn down the woman in charge of paying her – especially on her first day on the job.
Aisha takes her hours seriously and puts the receipt in Amy’s file, even though her payment is in cash and otherwise not on the books. She was cheaper than a registered nanny, and she knew almost nothing about the situation; As a legally undocumented former teacher, this was simply the best route she could find for her skill set. Aisha needs money – she hopes to bring her young son, Lamine, from Senegal. His absence weighs heavily on her, and is made worse by her profession: While she is attached, caring, and often attentive to Rose, her own son. He’s an ocean away. Aisha’s relationship with Lamine is entirely through her phone, in garbled video chats or recordings of moments she’s missed.
Aisha’s guilt over leaving her son is shown through strange images. Rain falls in the house. A figure in the distance stood at a distance in the lake. Spider legs create a long shadow that opens like an open mouth. Aisha is able to identify several images, telling Rose stories about the Anansi spider and how its diminutive size requires it to utilize its cunning to survive. When talking to an elderly woman (Deadpool‘s Leslie Uggams), who is more knowledgeable about the supernatural, she knows that Anansi and Mermaid-like water spirit Mami Wata trying to convey something to her. Aisha is fluent in many languages and teaching them to Rose is part of her job. But whatever these mythical figures are trying to tell her is a mystery.
Hallucinations and loss of time associated with guilt and/or trauma are standard territory for people who indulge in art house movies. Up to now, a year is not without a movie or two, descendants of Babadook will feel incomplete. But Nanny It stands out for its visuals, realized with rare skill, and evolved from folklore origins far from the standard horror of other movies about shadowy entities hitting the wall. While Aisha’s images confound her and are intended to confound the viewer with association, they are tender and gorgeous in the way they bathe her in an ethereal light. There was a feeling that those images might not be so disturbing after all, if she could only figure out what they meant.
Where another movie might just focus on Aisha’s pain and mental breakdown, Jusu Careful to show her protagonist trying to live her life and regain some control. She confides in a friend about Lamine’s absent father, and begins a romance with the building’s burly janitor (Sinqua Walls), who has a child of his own. She spoke up for herself when her employer didn’t pay her and unpaid overtime began to pile up. Amy’s husband, Adam (Morgan Spector), says he will “advance” Aisha the payment, and she quietly but firmly corrects him: It’s not an advance if it’s the amount she owed.
Jusu excels at highlighting the nasty power dynamics in the workplace, allowing Aisha’s relationship with her employer to become strained and complicated rather than plunging into overtly sinister territory. There was no malice in the way they treated Aisha, but her displeasure at the freedom they had and the limits they crossed was always palpable. At one point Amy lent Aisha a dress, insisting it matched her skin tone, even when Aisha commented that it was a bit tight. Adam’s photographs adorn the apartment with large, enlarged prints, and he eagerly talks to Aisha about the themes of his art and fame: Poverty and black conflict. These interactions are superficially reminiscent of awkward “meeting with family” moments by Jordan Peele Get outbut the truth about them is cleverly mundane: Her owners feel so comfortable above her that they no longer need to examine her introspection.
In fact, this dynamic is so well executed that it is curious that Jusu even mind the horror, as it’s much less effective than the drama. Aisha’s terrifying visuals are the weakest part of the film, building to an abrupt ending while posing the same question over and over again: Will audiences just sit back and watch for social perils? of a Senegalese immigrant if they were promised a few chunks of creepy apartment wandering? between?
Horror becomes a narrative crutch when it is used in this way, as if it were the only way to remove the happy forever expectations typical of a more conventional movie. Oscar’s bait version of Nanny conceivable as the horror suggested by the poster, perhaps retaining Diop’s nuanced main performance, but smothering it with tearful speeches and themes of virtue paying off, where hard work will pay off and evil characters will realize their mistakes. or get what’s coming to them. Horror may really be the only narrative mode that reliably engages audiences for this pessimistic version of the story, but Jusu’s other dramatic work suffers when she splits the weight. mind and conceal its most obvious ideas under the distraction of genre.
Nanny premieres in theaters on November 23 and will stream on Prime Video on December 16.