This film was screened at the Sundance Film Festival
African superstitions and spiritual traditions surrounding the myth of the water spirit Mami Wata are woven into a story of the immigrant experience in America in writer / director Nikyatu Jusu‘s impressive feature debut, “Nanny.” Utilizing horror elements in a story of routine domestic life lends a fresh, unique vision to a film that fuses together multiple genres.
Undocumented immigrant and former teacher Aisha (Nikyatu Jusu) leaves her home in Senegal and moves to New York City in pursuit of the American Dream. Hoping to raise enough money to bring over her own son that she left behind, Aisha gets a job working as a nanny for affluent couple Adam (Morgan Spector) and Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and their young daughter, Rose (Rose Decker). The girl’s mother is uptight and controlling while her busy father is rarely home. Rose and Aisha become fast friends and develop a strong bond, both supporting each other when the family’s home life grows more volatile. Aisiha’s personal life begins to unravel too, as she begins to worry when she can’t get in touch with her son or his caretaker. That’s when the disturbing dreams and nefarious nightmares start.
Jusu creates a world filled with disquieting visions of shadowy figures, spiders, and water (including rainstorms, floods, and drownings). It’s unsettling and frightening, and is a metaphysical warning that something is horribly wrong. The scenes are well done and the imagery genuinely chilling, but the film does unnecessarily veer into too-artsy territory at times.
Visionary independent films can often feel messy, but Jusu’s willingness to try something different is commendable. She succeeds with some elements, like drawing a strong performance from her lead and constructing an ominous mood, but she falters with other pieces (like her messy, disjointed narrative and disappointing ending). Despite a few rookie filmmaking mistakes, there’s a lot to appreciate about “Nanny.” It’s a hauntingly nuanced, atmospheric tale that will stick with you.
By: Louisa Moore