Nanny (Review) – A Smart And Effective Psychological Horror

DIRECTOR: Nikyatu Jusu

CAST: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams, Zephani Idoko, Princess Adenike, Jahleel Kamara

RUNNING TIME: 97 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A Senegalese migrant (Diop) faces her darkest fears when she is hired as a nanny…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

There are certainly whiffs of Parasite in writer-director Nikyatu Jusu’s debut feature Nanny – not just in the fact that it similarly skewers affluent attitudes towards working-class servants, but also in how it, much like Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar-winning hit, reveals a darker and somewhat sinister underlay to such relations (as well as the fact that, once or twice, there actually is a parasite that pops up on-screen). However, Jusu’s film strikes a very different tone, leaning far more into a mix of supernatural and psychological horror to convey a painful truth that hits home in a much more tender manner, and does so with a stylish flair and a vibrant, impressive personality.

The film follows Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese immigrant staying in America who has just been hired by affluent white couple Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector), to look after their young daughter Rose (Rose Decker) as a nanny. The job, at first, is perfectly fine, as Aisha and her young ward bond over learning French and trying some Senegalese cuisine, with the money she earns being put toward plane tickets so that her young son Lamine (Jahleel Kamara) can come over from Senegal to be with her, having been apart for nearly a year. However, it soon becomes clear that something is not right with this wealthy family – they begin missing due payments to her, having some concerning mood swings, and undermining her status as a migrant – which coincides with a number of disturbing visions that Aisha begins having, all of which point to a devastating truth that puts her state of mind at serious risk.

It is a slow-burn horror film, one that prefers to build layer upon layer of atmosphere and dread rather than throw everything it has at you in one go, so anyone expecting the scares to be full-on or even apparent from the very beginning might not warm to it right away. However, the gentle pace allows for a great deal of character development to take full precedence, and Jusu has the viewer spend a lot of time with Aisha, her friends, her romantic interest (played with plenty of charisma by Sinqua Walls), and even this family whose wealth and privilege has clearly given them a hazier outlook on the realities of life. In one scene, Monaghan and Spector’s characters are shown at a party with their similarly affluent friends where they’re all waxing faux-liberal observations about anti-police riots, and it’s more uncomfortable to be around than in the middle of an actual anti-police riot, because at least you’d be surrounded by people who actually believe in a cause. Jusu allows for her characters to be given enough time in the spotlight to really get an understanding of who they are, and why you should care about them when bad things inevitably start to happen, which you do because they’re written well enough – not to mentioned acted excellently, with Anna Diop easily commanding the screen in her lead role – to feel sympathetic or monstrous in their own unique ways.

When the horror elements do start to shine through, there are some effective sequences that blend creepy nightmarish concepts with some beautiful but haunting cinematography. Jusu brings a full palette of colours to her directorial style, who along with cinematographer Rina Yang presents different striking shades of blue, yellow, red, green, and so on to illustrate the ever-sinking feeling that our lead character is experiencing, and it has a chilling effect on the visual storytelling as you can feel things becoming consistently more constrained and stressful for this person, with the vibrant colour scheme matching her altering state of mind. There are even sequences where the horror becomes somewhat bizarre; it taps into aspects of African folklore involving certain supernatural entities, and without going too much into spoilers there’s an element to this movie where it almost becomes a scarier version of The Shape of Water, with a creature that could easily have come straight out of Guillermo del Toro’s creative workshop.

Overall, it’s a rather strong movie that captures a bleak and harrowing aspect of modern migrant life in more effective and impactful ways than a lot of other similarly-themed movies this year have done. While some in the horror community might be a bit less inclined to immediately embrace this movie for its lack of traditional scares, what it ends up doing with the spookier element – in this case using it to convey real-world themes and concerns that are, to a degree, more frightening than coming face-to-face with a demon or a masked serial killer – is not only smart, but also necessary for the genre to evolve past such traditions. That alone makes it worth checking out, because although you might not get the chills you might think you’ll get from a movie with this kind of set-up, it makes up for that with a serious amount of thrills.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Nanny is a smart and effective psychological horror that cleverly uses aspects of the genre to discuss hard-hitting themes such as motherhood, migration and class division, while also leaving plenty of room for its characters to feel developed, the writing and directorial style of first-time filmmaker Nikyatu Jusu to flourish and stand out, and the dialled-down spookier elements to create some genuinely unnerving chills.

Nanny is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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