By Matt Bearden
Photos: Amazon Video
Blumhouse’s productions of Get Out, The Purge, Insidious, and even the most recent Halloween trilogy bring us their Amazon Studio’s Nanny. Blumhouse’s films and TV shows thrive in horror that contains suspense, mystery, family dynamics, and even children. That right there should give you goosebumps. The Nanny is no exception to this bread-and-butter recipe. What makes Nanny, Nikyatu Jusu’s directorial debut, exceptional is the layered tropes and motifs that string viewers to a jarring conclusion. Exceptional, however, is subjective to the viewer. Viewers of Nanny will have a different experience purely based on their background. After all, films are meant to be works of art, and art doesn’t always speak the same to everyone.
Aisha (Anna Diop), an immigrant mother from West Africa’s Senegal, works for a family in the Upper East Side of New York. She hopes to bring her young son Lamine (Jahleel Kamara) to America for his birthday. So she becomes Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam’s (Morgan Spector) nanny for their only daughter, Rose (Rose Decker). Not long into her role, Aisha experiences eerie visions—like seeing a siren in the lake. Even more, Adam’s small gift to Rose, the children’s book Anashi the Spider, personifies both Rose and Aisha’s psychosis. It should be no surprise when a child is significant to a horror film. That child should be looked at with a watchful eye—something Aisha so desperately tries to manage while battling her ominous visions. While in this new role, she begins a relationship with Malik (Sinqua Walls), whose grandmother (Leslie Uggams) explains the folklore of Aisha’s visions. Either Freud or Jung would thoroughly enjoy sitting with Aisha as she tries to unravel the omens of water and unhinged motherhood.
Classic to indie films is symbolism, motif, and cultural and racial commentary, which are deeply embedded in Nanny. Jusu’s direction refuses to shy away from the tropes of black and Hispanic nannies and housekeepers working for white upper-class families in high-ceiling condominiums. Scenes depict other nannies sharing their concerns about working for such families, like mothers being afraid the food is too spicy. Amy, herself, causes outrage when she has difficulty accepting her daughter’s cultural range under Aisha. Let’s not forget the unavailable husband, Adam, a photographer with a wandering eye (not just for his camera). Unhinged motherhood could be caused by this man’s selected unavailability.
Unfortunately, while Nanny integrates these deeply embedded tropes, the film loses hold of their meaning as more get introduced. The storylines seem unfinished. I suppose an introspective question would be: Is Plot A actually Plot C? Without harshly criticizing the film on a single view, viewers may perhaps experience their subsequent viewings as an artist. Indie films are made with a mind, ear, and eye that isn’t catered to mass consumption, the opposite of superhero or racing films. They hold deep cuts, although some indie films cut deeper. You might get a deep cut, just as Aisha does. Or, you might get a sudden bite from a spider.
Nanny is playing in select theatres and will be streaming on Prime Video on December 16.