‘Nanny’ Movie Review [Sundance 2022]: Nikyatu Jusu’s Directorial Debut Flips Horror Character Study on Its Head

Nanny is a resilient and compelling horror character study. Writer/director Nikyatu Jusu brings a fascinating perspective to filmmaking that is so singular and unique. Lead actor Anna Diop is an absolute star, beautifully breathing life into Jusu’s work. Hopefully, Nanny is just a sign of many more great films to come from this filmmaker.

‘Nanny’ explores the horrors of the ‘American Dream’

'Nanny' Anna Diop as Aisha underwater holding her hands up
Anna Diop as Aisha | Sundance Institute

Aisha (Diop) is an immigrant who moved to New York City from Africa to make a better life. However, she had to leave her young son behind. She takes on a job as a nanny to care for a girl named Rose (Rose Decker). Aisha’s goal is to afford to fly her son out to New York so that they can enjoy their life together as a family once again.

However, Aisha’s life is quickly filled with anxiety after learning more about Rose’s parents, Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector). The more time that she spends in their home, the more she begins to realize that a supernatural presence lingers. It haunts Aisha’s dreams and her reality, forcing her to confront her deepest fears.

Writer/director Nikyatu Jusu’s feature debut is a horror character study

Nanny puts focus on a woman who deeply misses her son. Aisha values family, but her loneliness is particularly apparent when she sees other happy families together. However, Aisha quickly returns back to the grind. Nanny explains how the “American Dream” is built on the concept of working until you die. Nevertheless, Aisha’s son is her light at the end of the tunnel.

Amy, Adam, and Rose appear to be the perfect family. Aisha soon sees the cracks beginning to spider web out. She initially tries to stay out of it, but that inevitably becomes an impossible task. They project their insecurities on the nanny, putting her in an awkward situation. Amy and Adam’s relationship woes spread through the household to where it’s impossible to ignore them.

Jusu’s screenplay utilizes water as a major thematic device that introduces additional themes. Aisha’s nightmares and reality both often refer to water and the illusion of drowning. Nanny thinks outside of the box with how it progresses. Jusu doesn’t have a big climactic finish that some audiences may expect. Rather, she controls the flow and appropriately takes audiences through Aisha’s greatest dreams and nightmares, which occasionally weave together as one.

‘Nanny’ introduces the voice of a fascinating new filmmaker

'Nanny' Nikyatu Jusu wearing red smiling
Nikyatu Jusu | Sundance Institute

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Jusu is a filmmaker to watch, as this is an impressive directorial feature debut. She brings a fresh, new voice to both her writing and direction. She never takes the easy way out and visually captures Aisha’s journey with a gorgeous sense of style. Diop is spell-binding. She breathes life into Aisha and makes her a truly mesmerizing character.

Nanny is a horror film, but it doesn’t necessarily try to scare the audience. Rather, it’s depicting Aisha’s fears and presents them within the film’s narrative. Jusu’s approach is less about framing scares for viewers and more about unleashing Aisha’s journey in a haunting fashion.

Every supernatural horror film has a character that asks, “Why me? What do you want from me?” Nanny contorts those questions and asks them in return. The result is something truly unique and riveting. There are some pacing issues in the second act, but Nanny is a bold and striking vision. Jusu’s direction and Diop’s astounding performance result in exceptional, resilient storytelling.