nanny | nikyatu jusu | anna diop | michelle monaghan | sinqua walls | drama | thriller | supernatural | united states | morgan spector | rose decker | leslie uggams | olmide candide-johnson | jahleel kamara | princess adenike | mitzie pratt | keturah hamilton | mythology
Director: Nikyatu Jusu
Writer: Nikyatu Jusu
Starring: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan and Sinqua Walls
This is a movie that I got turned on thanks to Sundance. I saw this was a horror film that played there and even won an award. Due to this, I put it on a list of movies to check out for the year if it got released widely. When I saw that this was playing at the Gateway Film Center, I decided to check it out.
Synopsis: immigrant nanny Aisha (Anna Diop), piecing together a new life in New York City while caring for the child of an Upper East Side family is confronted with concealed truths that threaten to shatter her precarious American Dream.
To elaborate a bit more, our main character is Aisha. Through conversations over FaceTime on her phone she had to leave her son with a family member back in Senegal. I believe it is Mariatou (Olamide Candide-Johnson) and her son is Lamine (Jahleel Kamara). Aisha is living with her aunt who is helping her get on her feet in America and to save money.
At the beginning of this movie, she is going to a job interview as a nanny. Entering the building she meets the security guard at the front desk who is Malik (Sinqua Walls). He’s interested in her and she puts that down gently. The mother who is interviewing her for the job is Amy (Michelle Monaghan). Aisha would be watching Rose (Rose Decker) who is her daughter. Amy is working in the corporate world and is the main source of income. Her husband seems to be a journalist or a photographer who is sent around the world. His name is Adam (Morgan Spector) and in the beginning is away. Things are difficult for Amy and she is doing what she can.
Aisha and Rose get along well. Things seem to be working in Aisha’s favor, except they get weird. She has what appear to be vivid dreams about water. It becomes more difficult to talk to her son or even get ahold of her family member. Amy and Adam are also having marital problems, but they aren’t acknowledging it. Aisha gets pulled into that. She is also working over her hours and not being paid for it. Amy is neglecting in managing these finances. This is just the beginning though. There could be a supernatural entity coming after Aisha and Rose seems to notice as well.
That is where I’m going to leave fleshing out the synopsis and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that having now watched this, I see why this played at Sundance. There is the story that we are getting at the surface and there is more than that going on underneath. It has implied as well as explicit ideas that it explores. That is something that I can appreciate.
Where I want to start then would be with our lead, Aisha. She came from Africa and trying to make enough money to bring her son over. What I like is that the more we learn about her, the more human she is. Over in Senegal, she was a teacher. She had an affair with a married man who didn’t want her to have the child. She is a strong independent woman so she didn’t need him. This gets interesting when she interacts with Amy. The latter doesn’t see her as an equal. I like that the backstory to Aisha gets revealed slowly. The movie is playing on biases. Amy works in the corporate world where Aisha is working as her nanny. There is more to Aisha though. Amy’s life is spiraling, despite the façade she is portraying. I like the dichotomy here though of a worker and the neglect of Rose.
Another idea that I want to shift over to is that of capitalism. Amy as I’ve laid out represents the corporate world. It is interesting is that she is not paying Aisha for all the hours she works. We learn through dialogue that Amy and Adam have overextended themselves to show their status and privilege. This is creating problems for Aisha who needs the money to bring her son to America. I like that we see both sides have problems, despite the status they portray.
Going along with this idea that I’ve presented, there are multiple people that tell Aisha that she cannot work all day, every day. She needs to take care of herself. Aisha opens her heart to Malik and I think the nightmares as well as visions she has are guilt. She is working toward a purpose but losing sight for her own needs. Aisha is hard on herself. She shouldn’t feel guilty though. She is doing what she can. On the other side, Amy works hard and does what she can to fit in. Then we have Adam who seems to be having affairs. He also refuses responsibilities. This is a powerful message for sure being present through each of these characters.
The last thing then that I need to go into for the story is with the supernatural aspects. This introduces lore from west Africa. There is a myth about mermaids and this incorporates into the nightmares that Aisha has. The movie also pulls in a children’s story about a spider. Adam gets the book on his trip for Rose. Aisha reads it to her. We see aspects of both the story and the lore play out. The question is if they are real or not. Aisha blacks out when they happen. She also is stressed. That with her not taking care of herself could make her have a breakdown. I like that this is left up to us. I don’t think everything she sees is real. Rose makes comments though so I think there is something supernatural happening still.
I think that should be enough for the story that I wanted to go into. I’ll take this to the acting. Our star here is Diop and I think she’s good in her portrayal. I love the different layers that brings to the role. There are waves of things she goes through which makes her feel real. As her main ‘adversary’, I think that Monaghan is good. They are mirrors of each other. One seems to have the perfect life, but she is struggling. The other on the outside doesn’t and yet, better equipped at the things she does. I like this. Walls is solid as a truly good guy where Spector seems good but has flaws. I liked Decker as the little girl. The rest of the cast rounded this out and pushes our leads to where they end up.
The last things to go into would be with the filmmaking. The first thing I’ll say is that this is well-made. The cinematography looks great. We get good looking shots. To go along with that, they do interesting things with the lighting at times. There are effects here. I could tell there was CGI, but that looked good. They also use soft focus where Aisha thinks she sees something, but that might not be real. That is good to make us as a viewer to question along with her. Other than that, I think the soundtrack and design of the movie worked for what was needed. I do have a negative though. This movie is a slow-burn and I felt the runtime. I understand what they’re doing here and I think it is effective. My issue is just that there felt like wasted time that could be trimmed to tighten it up. This doesn’t ruin it, but I lost interest until the reveal. That was heartbreaking and made me tear up. I will give credit there.
In conclusion, this is a good movie. I wasn’t the biggest fan upon leaving the cinema. Now that I’ve sat with it, I can see what they were doing. I think that this explores interesting ideas. The acting is good which creates strong characters. Special credit to Diop and Monaghan. The rest push them to where they end up. I think that this is a well-made movie. There is beautiful cinematography, the effects are solid and the soundtrack worked. My biggest issue is just that the pacing is a bit off and it runs too long. Other than that, I would recommend giving this a viewing for horror and horror fans alike.
My Rating: 8 out of 10