In writer-director Nikyatu Jusu’s pungent, psychologically unnerving “Nanny,” the title describes a suffocating swirl of demanding job, racialized id and terror lure for Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese immigrant and single mom attempting to make a life for herself in New York.
Jusu’s fantastically confident debut characteristic, which garnered her a Sundance jury prize this 12 months, refreshingly approaches horror extra as a dramatic prism than a style template. There’s no “The” within the title for a cause (except for the truth that it’s not a tacky caretaker-gone-bad date-night frightfest): In her elegantly unsettling portrait of an invisible lady straddling two notions of house — removed from what she’s recognized, working inside a deadly system — Jusu is letting us know she’s received all diasporic ladies employed by rich households on her thoughts. And that their fears can simply turn into nightmares.
It’s a vibe she establishes straight away along with her moody opening picture: our protagonist’s peaceable slumber accompanied by water sounds, then a gathering dissonance, and eventually, most disturbingly, a spider crawling into her mouth. After we get to waking actuality, we meet Aisha on the morning she’s about to start out a brand new job caring for the daughter of a privileged, busy white couple, Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector), who dwell in a sleekly trendy high-rise house and lead busy, distracted lives.
Aisha has a toddler too, a boy named Lamine, however he’s a continent away — for now solely a determine on video chat, a supply of hope and a reminder of her crushing loneliness as she establishes a fast bond along with her cost, Rose (Rose Decker). The purpose is to earn sufficient to deliver Lamine to New York, if solely the controlling, career-driven, and emotionally needy Amy — edgily performed by Monaghan — might keep in mind to pay Aisha on time, and what she’s owed. Adam is kinder, however his interactions with Aisha aren’t any much less awkward for seeming ulterior. On prime of the stress of navigating her employers’ tension-filled home state of affairs, nonetheless, Aisha finds her consciousness being invaded by darkish forces who spark desires of suffocation and drowning, or episodes of hallucinatory hazard.
As intensive and worrisome as Aisha’s hauntings are — artfully dealt with with delicate visible shifts, sly edits and oozing audio cues — Jusu doesn’t current them as sensationalistic excessive factors or showpieces of victimization. Their horror is of their seeming to only exist as a part of the material of Aisha’s life alongside the microaggressions at her job and the off-work moments of peace and positivity when she will be able to go to a fellow immigrant pal or begin a budding romance (with Sinqua Partitions’ interesting doorman Malik).
Aisha is the three-dimensional hero of Jusu’s narrative, in spite of everything, not its prey, which is the place “Nanny” distinguishes itself in a trope-filled style, by no means extra so than when Malik’s keenly observant grandmother (Leslie Uggams) reveals up — like a well-rooted tree bearing fruit for a weary traveler — to tell Aisha (and us) about these supernatural interlopers warping her actuality: one a trickster, the opposite a water spirit, each figures from West African folklore who can zero in on inside turmoil. With that scene, we perceive why “Nanny” feels so completely different from different films centering trauma within the marginalized: The necessity to course of Aisha’s anxiousness is as a lot on this film’s thoughts as giving her terrors cinematic energy (by some top-notch sound design and Ian Takahashi’s evocative underwater cinematography).
With Diop’s anchoring portrayal intertwining buoyancy and ache, “Nanny” will get to face out as a personality research, one among brightness beset by malevolence, and maybe strengthened by it. Although Jusu doesn’t fairly stick the touchdown — there’s a wallop on the finish that isn’t handled as emotionally as you would possibly want it to be — it’s nonetheless a piece of compassion and unease heralding a considerate, genre-probing expertise.
Rated: R, for some language and transient sexuality/nudity
Operating time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Taking part in: Begins Nov. 23, Regal LA Dwell, downtown Los Angeles; accessible Dec. 16 on Prime Video