In writer-director Nikyatu Jusu’s pungent, psychologically unnerving “Nanny,” the title describes a suffocating swirl of demanding job, racialized identification and terror lure for Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese immigrant and single mom making an attempt to make a life for herself in New York.
Jusu’s fantastically confident debut function, 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 motive (apart from 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 dwelling — removed from what she’s identified, working inside a deadly system — Jusu is letting us know she’s received all diasporic girls employed by rich households on her thoughts. And that their fears can simply turn into nightmares.
It’s a vibe she establishes instantly together 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 stay in a sleekly fashionable high-rise condominium and lead busy, distracted lives.
Aisha has a baby 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 together with her cost, Rose (Rose Decker). The aim is to earn sufficient to deliver Lamine to New York, if solely the controlling, career-driven, and emotionally needy Amy — edgily performed by Monaghan — may bear in mind to pay Aisha on time, and what she’s owed. Adam is kinder, however his interactions with Aisha are not any much less awkward for seeming ulterior. On prime of the stress of navigating her employers’ tension-filled home scenario, nonetheless, Aisha finds her consciousness being invaded by darkish forces who spark goals of suffocation and drowning, or episodes of hallucinatory hazard.
As intensive and worrisome as Aisha’s hauntings are — artfully dealt with with refined 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 buddy or begin a budding romance (with Sinqua Partitions’ interesting doorman Malik).
Aisha is the three-dimensional hero of Jusu’s narrative, in any case, 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) exhibits 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 interior 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 nervousness is as a lot on this film’s thoughts as giving her terrors cinematic energy (via 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, certainly one of 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 temporary sexuality/nudity
Operating time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Enjoying: Begins Nov. 23, Regal LA Dwell, downtown Los Angeles; out there Dec. 16 on Prime Video