NANNY, Immigrant Horror Enhanced With Compelling Performances
NannyWriter-director Nikyatu Jusu’s debut feature with awe-inspiring imagination and awe-inspiring conception, brilliantly explores an aspect of the 21st-century immigrant experience that is too often overlooked or under-examined in film, television and cable.
Packed inside expertly executed supernatural/horror genre tropes with a West African twist, Nanny equally important centers on the domestic workers who leave lives and families behind in their home countries, to ironically become the equivalent of surrogate parents for the Caucasian children they often raise, nurture and love as their. Without surprise, Nanny has just received the Grand Jury Prize 2022 from the Sundance Film Festival.
When we meet Aisha (Anna Diop, dc titans), a relatively new Senegalese immigrant to the United States, she is about to start her job as the do-everything nanny for a wealthy family of three in the Upper East. Wife, mother, and career professional (and head of household), Amy hires Aisha to help Amy raise her pre-teen daughter, Rose (Rose Decker).
With a college education and French on her resume, Aisha easily settles into the role of teacher, cook, and non-biological secondary mother figure to Rose. Although Aisha literally dreams of bringing her own pre-teen son, Lamine (Jahleel Kamara), from Senegal to join her in the United States, she does not allow any of her frustrations with Amy’s control and obsession or its own inability to raise funds. necessary to bring Lamine to the States influence his relationship with Rose.
Even when Amy turns out to be a master manipulator (convincing Aisha to stay the night on short notice) and an occasional gaslighter (trying to short-circuit Aisha financially) – a reminder of the exploitable power imbalance between the two women – Aisha continues to take care of Rose forward-and-centre. Lamine’s dreams and her fears, worries, and anxieties about her well-being, however, continue to creep into Aisha’s life, causing her no emotional and mental distress.
A modern woman rejecting superstitions and a schoolteacher by trade, Aisha repeatedly dismisses the increasingly disturbing intrusion of seemingly supernatural characters from West African folklore, including Anansi, a trickster figure, and Mami Wata, a spirit of the mermaid-like water in her dream. and everyday life.
Aisha sees the appearances of Anansi and Mami Wata first as minor annoyances, then later as figurative threats, but never as literal threats. In the most intriguing plot Jusu introduces in the story, Aisha seeks advice from Kathleen (Leslie Uggams), the grandmother of Aisha’s romantic partner-in-waiting, Malik (Sinqua Walls), who is American.
Well-versed in West African traditions and spiritual insight, Kathleen suggests an entirely different and far less clear purpose for the lingering supernatural presence in Aisha’s life. Ultimately, it’s up to Aisha to interpret their ambiguous intent and act (or not act) accordingly. Whether she acts or not determines not only her individual fate, but perhaps the fate of those in her immediate orbit.
Although Jusu leans into his supernatural elements in the second half, Nanny contains few real scares or shocks, relying more on all-too-familiar visualizations of Aisha’s destabilizing and destabilizing sanity (e.g. crawling beasts, mirror doppelgangers, unwanted bed partners). Even during the romantic interlude/subplot involving Aisha and Malik’s developing relationship, the feeling of existential dread never goes away.
It’s just put aside temporarily, leaving Aisha suspicious and waiting to wade through her conflicting and often contradictory experiences (i.e. the life and son she left behind, the vibrant new life that ‘she builds in the United States), all deftly captured by Anna Diop’s captivating performance, a performance that deliberately hides more than it reveals, but a performance that nonetheless never feels less than grounded, never less than believable.
Nanny premiering Saturday, January 22 at the Sundance Film Festival.