NANNY – Sundance Review

Written by Cassie Jo Ochoa

It’s rare to have a debut feature come across with such a firm grasp on its sense of self, especially for a film with a real history to the supernatural elements. Nikyatu Jusu’s debut feature manages to weave a real horror behind the character drama that unfolds before our eyes. With a unique tone and a vibrant color palette, Nanny spins a tale right out of a horror novella lost in the motherhood section of the bookstore.

First and foremost: despite this being sold as a supernatural horror, Nanny is a character drama. Senegalese immigrant Aisha (Anna Diop) is scraping together money to get her son to fly to America before his seventh birthday. She ends up at the apartment of Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector), but within minutes you can feel that something is off. Jusu carefully cracks the door to whatever uncanny event is about to happen. Slowly Aisha finds herself further and further down the rabbit hole, and with each red flag she ignores the more your heart just fills with dread. The dramatic elements aren’t just backdrop – the world Aisha occupies feels as real as it gets, which makes it all the eerier when the nightmares she experiences start surfacing in the daytime. 

On a technical level Nanny is even more impressive. The world of the film is vibrant and colorful, and the cinematography manages to know the best way to truly get under your skin at times. The ambitious nature of the story leaves a lot of potential for sour notes or redundant scenes, but Nikyatu Jusu does a great job balancing it all. Anna Diop gives a stellar performance as Aisha, and her romance with Malik (Sinqua Walls) is a love story that felt organic despite the odd circumstances.

If there are any negatives to say about the film, it’s that the ending feels a bit rushed. Nanny floods every scene with so much myth and character drama that the final few minutes just fly by. I won’t pretend to be disappointed by the conclusion, but I wish we’d spent more time saying goodbye. Nanny is a fantastic first film, and I cannot wait to see what Nikyatu Jusu does next.

Grade: A

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