Nanny is a psychological horror, with elements of mythology and the ocean that unfortunately fails to capitalise on their themes and elements.
It follows Aisha (Anna Diop), who is a Senegalese immigrant in America, looking to save and build up a life in America, with the eventual hope to bring her son over to live. In looking to save up money, she has taken a job as a nanny in New York City and looks after the daughter of a rich white couple. However, things do not go to plan as Aisha intends.
Having to navigate the messy marriage, the lack of payment as well as the lack of boundaries, Aisha finds herself having disturbing visions involving drowning water and threatening aquatic creatures. Her hook on reality is slowly becoming tenuous, she fears that her dreams of reuniting with her son may never materialise.
The cinematography in Nanny is exceptionally beautiful. With such a sparse and monochrome backdrop of the wealthy white couple, there is an array of colours that is a part of Aisha and her heritage that offer life and vibrancy into what would have been a bleak landscape without. In the white couple’s house, it can feel brutal, devoid and lifeless, so Aisha’s home and surroundings are a perfect contrast to that.
This follows the character’s moods as well, the wife Amy (Michelle Monaghan) is often found drinking, upset and alone, with the husband Adam (Morgan Spector) who is never to be found. Even though Aisha is alone without family, her life is full of love for her son, and those she holds closest to her.
It is within this bleak white landscape that some of the disturbing imagery is presented and gives you the foreboding that something is not right. However, you would be prudent to be concerned that this might have turned into a racial horror, as there seemed to be definite power imbalances and a struggle between the national white couple and immigrant Aisha. Nevertheless, this turns out to be fluff that only serves to provide a confusing storyline.
From a variety of scenes, Nanny seems to be unsure what it wants to present and gives us all manner of different characters and storylines that do not go anywhere. Any time a new person or information is placed into this world, it feels as if the writers have forgotten that bit of subtext before they have moved on to the next piece of information. At times, it can feel quite jarring in a piece that was trying to be subtler in his horror tones. In some ways, it reminded me of The Empty Man which had an omnipresent ominous atmosphere, but Nanny just fails to hit the mark.
The world-building, which is where a lot of films either live or die, seems to be a bit of an afterthought. Feeling cynical, it would be easy to suggest that they added some African folklore as a cheap horror tactic, as they never really expanded upon it. Even with the young girl feeding into the mythology, it is just dropped like a lead weight. They put great emphasis on Aisha’s Senegalese culture, but it was like an empty thought that they never fully explored. Aisha, her family, and her culture should have been the core tenets of the film, as there were rich and potential characters and plot lines that could have been used with great execution.
The twist, if it could be called that, was not as surprising as the filmmakers wanted to make us believe. Even if you did not consciously know the ending, you would not be surprised. And even though Aisha was an easy character to connect to and emphasise with, it felt almost like an empty ending, lacking the full emotional force it should have had.
Nanny is a beautiful film with stunning visuals and a brilliant main character. However, the plot is lacklustre and is too muddled with side characters that are fighting for attention, that the main focus on Aisha and her love for her son is lost.
Having some subtle horror tones, it is too meek in its execution to fill any viewer with a sense of overwhelming or even uncomfortable dread that one would expect from the premise of Nanny.
Nanny is available to watch now on Amazon Prime Video.