Nanny is a horror film that’s neither scary nor thought-provoking as much as it tries to think it is. Starting as a slow burn, the final delivery to the big lead-up comes too abruptly, taking away the small impact the film maintained. When the story finally gains momentum, it ends with a big fat “that’s it?”
Nanny suffers from a Don’t Worry Darling issue. The actors aren’t being underpaid or spitting on each other at film festivals, but the movie has the exact type of predictability revolving around a plot that’s supposed to keep you guessing. I’ll take it further by saying Nanny might be even more predictable than Don’t Worry Darling. I wouldn’t complain about the predictability this much if the film’s entire plot didn’t revolve around the “shocking” reveal in the end.
Aisha (Anna Diop) has immigrated from Senegal to the United States looking for work. The employment Aisha lands is nannying duty. Aisha cares for the child of an affluent yet tumultuous couple residing in New York City. Being a hostage to luxury, Aisha vicariously lives the American dream in the house of the child she cares for. On the job, Aisha’s natural maternal instincts make her a fitting match for little Rose (Rose Decker).
When Rose’s over-demanding mother, Amy (Michelle Monoghan), monitors her daughter’s diet religiously, Aisha breaks the rules, immediately feeding Rose food that’s spicier than the recommended intake for children. Getting along so well with Rose helps Aisha’s mind at ease from her son. Back in Senegal, Aisha’s boy zooms his mother, telling her he’s coming to see her soon in the U.S.
The unbearable pressure of being away from her child begins to make Aisha cave. Reality and fantasy blend together. As lovely as it is to be caring for a child in a lush house, it’s not Aisha’s house, and it’s not her kid. Gone from her son, Aisha tries her best to keep it together so she can keep her job, but Aisha can’t stop the spiral once the mental marry go round starts moving.
Playing with dream sequences is always fun work for a cinematographer. You don’t have to worry about the lights matching or the scene being over or under-exposed. You can do whatever the subconscious of the character is imagining. Where most films take dream sequences to significant stylistic heights, things don’t look radically different between the dream world and the real world in this film. Cinematographer Rina Yang shoots in higher contrast but doesn’t rely on it for style. By doing so, the audience questions whether what they’re seeing is real or not. When the color matches its same codes of blue, everything looks the same, meaning to throw the viewer during the film’s midpoint.
When things get weird, they’re subtle. Usually, I (along with every critic on earth) ask for restraint. Here, I wish the filmmakers had taken things further. Nanny has a very familiar feeling with its trama tropes. The disjointed nature of its narrative slips its story through the cracks of a tight narrative. Writer/Director Nikyatu Jusu attempts to say something about immigration, race, and maternity, but much of it is lost in a carpet sweep ending that’s not much of a surprise.
The revelation could have catapulted the story in an exciting direction. It could have been a “where do we go from here” page-turner, but the film slammed to black, and I threw up my hands in the theater. Really? Now you stop the story? If the entire point of the plot is the ending, then there’s not much of a story to follow.
Nikyatu Jusu has a lot to say, yet she doesn’t say it as effectively as she could. The visual metaphors of drowning are too similar to every image of the main character I’ve seen submersed underwater in every movie. There’s potential in Nanny’s director that’s lost on the first try. Here’s hoping that Ms. Jusu’s follow-up film can make a better attempt.
Nanny will play at the Chicago International Film Festival on October 21.
Select Theaters on November 23, and streaming on Amazon Prime on December 16.