Synopsis: Immigrant nanny Aisha, piecing together a new life in New York City while caring for the child of an Upper East Side family, is forced to confront a concealed truth that threatens to shatter her precarious American Dream.
Stars: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams
Director: Nikyatu Jusu
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: On the surface, Nikyatu Jusu’s thriller Nanny feels like it could be a tight twist on the mid-late ‘90s cycle of yuppie thrillers that put families in a particular income bracket in peril a la The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. Aligning it with those agreeable (and quite entertaining, if I do say so) popcorn chompers would be selling Jusu’s film short, though, because Nanny is more emotionally complex and resonant. Leaving you alarmingly chilled rather than terrifically thrilled, there’s a more important lesson to be learned from this modern metropolitan horror tale.
Senegalese immigrant Aisha (Anna Diop, Us) is just starting work for Amy (Michelle Monaghan, Pixels) and Adam (Morgan Spector, With/in) as a nanny for Rose (Rose Decker) in their nicely appointed Upper East Side apartment as the film opens. As is often the case, Adam is the more hands-off parent, while Amy is the helicopter mom who confuses the smothering of her daughter with genuine love and care. Amy’s more concerned with how her family looks to the outside world, the appearance of perfection is the ultimate goal. Aisha picks up on that and does what she can to stay within the boundaries of her employer’s strict rules. However, she’s also a mother with a son back home. Most of her wages go toward a ticket to bring the two back together.
As the work demands increase, so does the stress of the job. Though a new romantic relationship is prosperous, it re-introduces her to traditions and age-old spiritual tales that begin to haunt her. This leads Aisha down a path of nightmares involving her son that start crossing into reality. The hallucinations become outright fear when she loses contact with her child and cannot find out where he is. Where is her son, and how does Rose appear to know him and pin Aisha’s increasingly strange behavior on him?
Nanny belongs to star Diop, a commanding presence that keeps you hooked on each development and left turn the film takes. While you may begin to suspect where Jusu is guiding the thriller and arrive at the final destination long before Aisha does, Diop’s strong performance rises above Nanny’s sub-par structure, fortifying it into something more nuanced and intriguing. Monaghan and Spector are solid too, and it helps that the script doesn’t pander to making them the expected NYC snobs we expect. They’re snobs alright, but their angle has a tweaked edge to it.