Nanny Review – IGN

Nanny is in theaters November 23 and on Prime Video December 16.

Something the horror genre excels at is bridging cultures through a well-told fairy tale or folk tale. For humans, fear is a universal connector, and our regional histories and creatures can help define and personify our cultural bête noire with power. Director/writer Nikyatu Jusu attempts to do just that with Nanny, a contemporary immigration story centered around a Senegalese single mother, Aisha (Anna Diop), trying to build a new life for herself in New York City. Her silent suffering from separation from her young son manifests itself in her daily life with increasingly frequent nightmares and disturbing visions filled with images and creatures of her native culture. While visually appealing and featuring a star-studded performance from Diop, Nanny is ultimately a mishmash of too many ideas that never quite converge in a brief meditation.

As a relatively new transplant from Senegal to New York City, Aisha lives with an aunt as she begins to save enough money to bring her beloved son, Lamine (Jahleel Kamara), to live with her. Hoping to expedite the process, she takes a job as a nanny for a wealthy white couple, Amy and Adam (Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector). They have a baby girl, Rose (Rose Decker), who Aisha is hired to care for in their well-appointed home. Amy is a cranky helicopter parent with a binder full of directives, rules, and tasks that Aisha must follow to the letter. There are even deductions of existing behavior problems for Rose, which seem to clear up just under the caring and compassionate kindness Aisha brings with her career teaching skills.

While Aisha bonds easily with Rose, the job exacerbates the distance from her son and doesn’t help the issues Amy and Adam bring into her life. Overdue pay, thoughtless last-minute requests, and demands made by an increasingly erratic Amy seem to trigger water-related nightmares and daytime zoning moments for Aisha that become increasingly unnerving. It’s only when she tentatively allows herself to plant tiny roots in her new town, dating doorman and fellow single parent Malik (Sinqua Walls), that she meets her grandmother Kathleen (Leslie Uggams), who tells her of the shared African folklore and related mythology. to water and mermaid-like creatures.

A woman caught between two worlds, Aisha finds herself metaphorically drowning under the stress induced by her job, inconsistent communication at home due to her mercurial cousin taking care of Lamine, and the dreams invading her psyche and perhaps her ability to take care of Rose. Jusu and cinematographer Rina Yang are creative with their camera, using intimate stills to show the smallness of Aisha’s new reality juxtaposed with the almost cavernous coldness of the house where she must spend most of her time. The apartment is essentially made into a haunted house, earning some real chills and an uneasy vibe that effectively permeates the piece.

Nanny excels as a character piece and a showcase for Jusu and Diop’s many talents.


Perhaps more interesting is their refusal to portray Aisha in shot, or most spaces, as a victim, which is refreshing and really sets the film apart. Yes, she can be melancholy and frustrated about where she is in her life. But she’s also shown to be joyful with her local family, while being resourceful and clear-headed about the kind of people she works for. She is many things, including a caring mother, an outspoken advocate for herself and Rose, and a beautiful woman who rightfully charms Malik. Their choice not to belittle her makes Aisha’s spells more intriguing as we know there is a proficiency there that she is being overwhelmed by something beyond her control.

Unfortunately, when Jusu tries to distill the disparate parts of Aisha’s life into a satisfying ending, those elements prove a little too scattered and undeveloped to coalesce into a finely tuned and finished thought. And for a film that offers plenty of room for both the concrete and the metaphysical, the final climax feels jarringly rushed. While it scores points for subverting expectations, there’s a hasty quickness to concluding that it doesn’t match what comes before. But even with that number, Nanny excels as a character and showcase for Jusu and Diop’s many talents.

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