Nanny Review: A middling horror flick that can’t fully utilize its strengths
The directorial debut of Nikyatu Jusu, Nanny, has some strong cultural perspectives, atmospheric horror, and a compelling lead performance, but can’t tie it all together to create a consistently engaging watch.
The film follows Aisha (Anna Diop), an undocumented Senegalese immigrant who is working as a nanny for a wealthy NYC family to bring her son to America. At first, her new position goes as normal, outside of some absent parenting and struggles with infidelity within this family, but Aisha soon starts to feel haunted by an unseen presence. With her reality constantly bending and there being this mysterious foreboding nature to the visions she’s having, Aisha finds herself in a personal battle that could threaten her American Dream.
Nanny’s greatest horrors come from Aisha’s personal narrative surrounding the fears of her not being able to bring her son and this supernatural intuition within her that distorts her reality. Jusu excellently creates these very visually stunning and unsettling moments that make you uneasy and build this looming fear. There’s this great use of water in certain sequences that evokes claustrophobic feelings and Jusu really immerses you into these haunting and almost forebodingly dark moments through her direction. There’s an especially great sequence as the film shifts into its final act that’s full of suspense and has a jaw-dropping shift back to reality.
All of Nanny’s atmospheric horrors are easily elevated by Diop’s incredible central performance. As Aisha, Diop shows some strong commitment to some of the terrifying places she’s forced to go and really makes the horror feel immersive because of how well her performance mixes with Jusu’s writing. The way that Jusu touches on Aisha’s personal narrative as an immigrant can be incredibly intriguing as there are organic moments and story threads that can flesh out some relevant themes.
It’s interesting how the film uses African mysticism to give context to Aisha’s horror-driven visions, and it ultimately creates a strong foreboding backbone that makes them more compelling. On a more grounded level, there are also some scenes that touch on how Aisha’s cultural background is perceived, talked about, and even utilized against her with the family she’s caring for. There’s a subtle power struggle that’s felt within the family that makes Aisha’s role more challenging and complex, and she’s even taken advantage of and scolded because of her status as an immigrant and the situation with her son.
Overall, there are some great elements to both Nanny’s horror and personal story arc, but unfortunately these strengths are often outweighed by the disjointed structure of the narrative and lack of focus. There are just too many story threads and characters the film tries to juggle and shove in, including a pointless romance plot, that takes too much away from the horror. The moments of horror are so sporadic in Nanny that you could honestly forget that you’re watching a horror movie completely. Thus, the film simply feels like a standard drama and really doesn’t have enough to it to keep viewers hooked.
As said before, Diop’s performance and some moments surrounding Aisha’s perspective and struggles can pique your interest from time to time, but it’s not enough to really keep your attention for the whole runtime. There’s so much happening without any context or details and it’s easy to become lost because the film doesn’t establish a strong enough story direction. So, you end up feeling disconnected throughout most of the film. The more abstract approach to the horrors and story details don’t help either as it never feels like you have a firm grip on what the film is trying to get at. So, by the time film decides to give more concrete answers, it’s simply too late. There is a final twist that does offer a cruel realization that’s legitimately gut-wrenching and evokes some strong emotion, but it isn’t enough to feel like a satisfying payoff because the film doesn’t do much to take it any further.
Nanny does showcase some strong work from Jusu and Diop while providing some standout aspects and moments worth sitting on but never manages to be consistently engaging enough to be a worthwhile or completely memorable watch.