Written and directed by Nikyatu Jusu, immigrant nanny Aisha, piecing together a new life in New York City while caring for the child of an Upper East Side family, is forced to confront a concealed truth that threatens to shatter her precarious American Dream. Starring: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams, Olamide Candide-Johnson and Jahleel Kamara.
One of the endlessly joyous things about horror is that it can be pretty much whatever you want it to be, and it can be used to explore all manner of political and emotional issues. Nikyatu Jusu takes advantage of that by intensifying the number of different themes discussed in Nanny. Understandably people might want to immediately jump into how this film delves into immigration and race, it’s also an extremely observant example of power dynamics with employer, employee relationships, particularly when children are involved. However, the absolute key to this story is motherhood and the way in which Jusu expertly traverses the subject is impressively insightful. The entire film moves through the idea of the connection between mother and child, as well as the power that it holds. She also does so through two different lenses, that of Aisha’s (Anna Diop) relationship with her own child, and with the child she cares for and her mother. It’s a complex story but it’s handled superbly to never let it become over complicated, while still being beautifully layered.
One of those layers is the way that it brings culture into the conversation, it uses Aisha’s personality and history in how it communicates her experience to create something new. It’s still an exploration of fear and worry as we know and love in horror, but it’s translated visually with a more individual perspective. That in turn allows the aesthetic and atmosphere to veer off the traditional path, to take its already rich, textured feel and enhance the curiosity and dread. There’s a great depth to its cinematography, there’s a quality to it that’s almost Gothic while still remaining very modern. It has a truly satisfying progression to the way that it grows as it moves forward, the tension rises and adds a nicely suspicious note to each choice. It also has its story come full circle in a hugely satisfying manner to add a cherry on top.
With the complexity of its story comes a great deal of emotion landing squarely at the feet of its leading lady Anna Diop and she devours every last drop of it. Her performance can flawlessly move from guarded to kind to romantic to powerful to tenacious, and many more. One of the impressive things about it is how she holds back, there are a number of moments where she may not speak to her emotions or physically express them but you can feel it. Her frustration and disappointment often lingers beneath the surface which is equally as satisfying as when they’re given free rein. The sincere pain that Diop communicates with her performance will stick with you.
Nanny is a compelling, gripping, insightful story, brought to life with a rich aesthetic. It’s almost hard to believe that this is Nikyatu Jusu’s feature debut, given that there’s such a skilled, delicate hand on the wheel. It explores a number of different issues and treats each of them with a keen eye. It perfectly balances the genre blend of horror, thriller and drama. Anna Diop gives a stunning performance, holding a powerhouse of emotion and creating an unforgettable journey.