Nanny (2022) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A nanny under the influence

“Nanny”, which was released on Amazon Prime in last month, is an uneven mix of immigrant drama and horror. Although it is held together fairly well thanks to its competent direction as well as the good lead performance at its center, the movie stumbles more than once as trying to balance itself between its two very different genres, and then, to my little disappointment, it simply stops when it could go further for more exploration in terms of story and characters.

Anna Diop, who previously appeared as one of the main characters in Jordan Peele’s “Us” (2019), plays Aisha, a Senegalese immigrant who has been just hired as a nanny for some affluent family living in New York City. While she is not that confident about her job, it does not take much time for her to get friendly with a little young girl of whom she is hired to take care, and it looks like this job will help her saving more money for bringing her little young son in Senegal to New York City someday.

Surely feeling alone at times, Aisha gets some comfort from several people around her. While she receives some generosity from her black landlady, there is a Nigerian hairdresser who has been her best friend for a while, and she also comes to befriend a black guy named Malik (Sinqua Walls), who incidentally works in the same apartment building where Aisha goes for her daily babysitting work. He turns out to be really interested in getting closer to her, and Aisha does not mind at all when he suggests later that they should have a little date together.

However, Aisha is still missing her son a lot. She sometimes talks with her son via international video phone, and she always promises to him that she will bring him to New York City as soon as possible, though that will not be possible for a while. When she cannot talk with her son on the phone, she checks out her phone conversations with him again and again, and that reminds her more of how much she really wants to reunite with him.

Anyway, Aisha keeps working as usual, but something strange begins to happen. She starts to experience a series of disturbing dreams involved with water and a certain mythical figure, and she has no idea on why this is occurring upon her. Is possible that this is just an anxiety/exhaustion problem which has been suppressed inside her due to insufficient rest and comfort during last several months? Or, is this actually caused by something real and frightening with possibly insidious motives?

In the meantime, things begin to fall apart for Aisha bit by bit. The more she spends time at her employer’s apartment, the more she senses the growing awkwardness between her employer and the employer’s husband, who often does not provide much emotional support for his wife as often busy with his works outside. Aisha’s employer is mostly fair and kind, but she cannot help but become neurotic as trying to balance herself between her work and her daughter, and we are not so surprised when she comes to clash with Aisha over a trivial matter at one point later in the story.

As more concerned about how unstable her job has become, Aisha naturally seeks some comfort from talking with her son, but she only finds herself more disturbed as she cannot contact a family member who has been taking care of her son in Senegal. Through Malik’s grandmother, who incidentally has some considerable knowledge on spiritualism, Aisha comes to learn more about that certain mythic figure in her dream, and the mood becomes ominous as her mind trembles between reality and dream more frequently than before.

Because Jason Blum serves as one of its executive producers, you will certainly expect to be scared or disturbed sooner or later, and the movie does not disappoint you at all during its last act where our heroine’s mind becomes more unreliable. There are several tense moments as she is thrown into more confusion and anxiety, and we come to worry more about what may happen to not only her but also that little girl under her care.

When the screenplay by director/writer Nikyatu Jusu, who won the Grand Jury Prize when the movie was shown at the Sundance Film Festival early in last year, eventually reveals everything around its finale, it is not exactly surprising to us, but it mostly works thanks to the Diop’s nuanced natural acting. She did a commendable job of conveying her character’s growing anxiety and confusion along the story without exaggerating that at all, and her good performance is the main reason why we keep paying attention to the screen before the movie eventually reaches to its rather fizzling ending.

Around Diop, Jusu ably establishes the plain but vivid realistic background, and the supporting performers are convincing as various people you may come across in New York City, though I wish the movie developed their characters more. While Sinqua Walls clicks well with Diop in their several key scenes, Leslie Uggams has a couple of effective scenes as Malik’s knowledgeable grandmother, and Michelle Monaghan acquits herself fairly well despite her thankless role.

On the whole, “Nanny” is not so recommendable for me, but it still shows Jusu, who previously made several short films before making a feature debut here, is a talented filmmaker with considerable potential. I am not satisfied enough, but I am interested in what may come next from her, and I hope I will be more impressed in the next time.

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