The final news from the past Sundance was the film-winner of the festival – the visually verified horror “Nanny” (2022) from the debutant Nikiato Jusu, who also acted here as the scriptwriter. Unlike last year’s Sundance winner, Shan Hader’s touching CODA, the less audience-friendly The Babysitter was predictably lost among the festival’s other high-profile releases, never making it to the list of favorites for the upcoming awards season. Nevertheless, the picture, the script of which was gathering dust for two years in the famous “black list”, found its home in the file cabinet of Amazon Prime Video streaming.
The main character, an immigrant from Senegal named Aisha (Anna Diop), takes a job as a nanny in the home of wealthy Americans from Manhattan (Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector) to earn some money for a happy life with her son Lamin (Jalil Kamara), who remained in a distant homeland . The daughter of the Americans, five-year-old Rose (Rose Decker), quickly becomes attached to the warm and friendly Aisha: unlike her always busy mother, she always finds time for both games and conversations. However, for the heroine herself, the new work quickly turns into a real nightmare – Aisha is constantly haunted by gloomy hallucinations involving giant spiders, poisonous snakes and eerie shadows in the mirror.
It is important to understand that all the elements of horror in the “Nanny” play the role of scenery to a greater extent than they really try to scare the viewer. To check, the story created by Nikiato Jusu turns out to be a sensual social drama that refers to the themes of racism, labor exploitation and depression, which forced migrant workers somehow face. In an attempt to integrate into the world of rich white people, Aisha sacramentally loses herself, becoming the ideal mother for the little princess Rose, while her own son Lamin grows up in Senegal. Her terrible visions are nothing more than a repressed feeling of maternal guilt for her own impotence before life, for a choice made against all inner instincts, for the sold love that she gives to someone else’s child.
Lorgan Finnegan’s recent “Nocebo”, which also features an immigrant nanny, touched on similar ideas, but did so in a too clumsy and even peremptory manner, which finally slid into a farce by the end. Jusu acts more subtly. Refusing direct accusations towards the vaunted American capitalism, she focuses on the psycho-emotional state of the main character, offering the audience to share her mental pain, slowly but surely turning into a stage of mental agony.
At the same time, as the main dialogue with the audience, Jusu chooses the language of metaphors – the easiest and most accessible way to convey meanings in culture – which in this particular case works rather against it. Their obvious conventionality prevents “Nanny” from becoming a full-fledged horror, but the actual presence does not allow the film to play fully within the framework of a social drama. All this greatly reduces the value of the tragic plot denouement, the catharsis of which is simply destroyed under the influence of a total sense of understatement.