Combustible Celluloid Review - Nanny (2022), Nikyatu Jusu, Nikyatu Jusu, Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams, Zephani Idoko, Princess Adenike
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With: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams, Zephani Idoko, Princess Adenike
Written by: Nikyatu Jusu
Directed by: Nikyatu Jusu
MPAA Rating: R for some language and brief sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 98
Date: 11/23/2022

Nanny (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Shocker Mom

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A feature writing and directing debut by Nikyatu Jusu, this creeper feels like expert filmmaking, with its stark thesis on inequality, its nervy music and soundscape, and its striking performances.

Former teacher Aisha (Anna Diop) has left her son behind in Senegal, while she heads to New York City to raise money working for wealthy families as a nanny. She gets a job looking after Rose (Rose Decker), whose father Adam (Morgan Spector), a photojournalist, is hardly ever home. Rose's mother, Amy (Michelle Monaghan), is frazzled and overworked, and highly controlling of Rose's diet.

At first things go smoothly, and Aisha and Rose quickly bond. And she begins dating doorman Malik (Sinqua Walls), whose mother (Leslie Uggams) is a priestess, and welcomes Aisha into their home. But soon Aisha finds herself working overtime and having to remind Amy and Adam to pay her. She also can't seem to get to her son, Lamine, or his caretaker on the phone. She begins to see disturbing visions of all varieties, from spiders, to sudden rainstorms inside rooms, to mysterious figures.

Nanny is up-front about its situation. Aisha says she misses the good parts about her native Senegal, but not the bad parts; apparently they were enough to make her choose the bitterly ironic situation of taking care of another family's child so she can raise money to get hers back. (Such money cannot be raised in Senegal.)

Diop's strong, empathetic performance conveys the pain of this, how every waking moment without her child hurts; there's a lot to endure. Jusu is so astute as a filmmaker that she even conveys character nuances in the white parents, suggesting their pained relationship, Adam's childishness (and his culturally-appropriated African art), and Amy's frayed nerves.

Of course, starting with a basis in character makes the scary stuff in Nanny more effective, but Jusu isn't interested so much in scaring her audience than she is in simply suggesting the horror that exists in life. Aisha's terrors and visions spring right out of the fabric of everyday existence. Sometimes they're routine nightmares, but other times, she's just looking in the mirror or testing some bathwater, when something terrifying happens.

Every aspect of the production, from the lighting and colors, to the unsettling music and sound design, handily mesh together to create Aisha's world. A too-tidy, last-minute ending seems to let us off the hook a little too easily, but, on the other hand, it could also be part of the movie's biting tapestry.

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