London Film Festival 2022 Review – Nanny (2022)

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It looks like an American Dream come true. A successful career couple seem to have it all: an elegant home in a chic high-rise block, a pretty little daughter and working lives that mean they need help at home. They hire Aisha (Anna Diop), a qualified teacher from Senegal, as a nanny. She’s looking to establish herself in New York so her young son can come and live with her. But all is not what it seems.

Nanny sees that dream turn into something closer to a nightmare. Aisha is working undocumented in the family’s home and, as a former teacher, she’s seriously over-qualified to be both a nanny and, eventually, closer to a housekeeper. Being paid for her work is always an issue with her employers full of excuses. Her relationship with the little girl, Rose, is strong but it doesn’t prevent her longing to be with her little boy, who is back in Senegal and, as the strain between her and the girl’s parents intensifies, she finds herself haunted by figures from West African legends and folklore. Are they warning her about those around her, or her lifestyle in general?

The first horror to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, it’s also the feature debut of director Nikyatu Jusu and is based on her own family experiences. In fact, she and lead actor, Anna Diop, both share personal connections with its subject matter, and it results in an authenticity coupled with a compulsion to shine a light on a social issue which has received little in the way of exposure. Yet it’s another version of modern slavery. Jusu instantly creates a sense of something sinister lingering underneath a gleaming surface, but one that’s hard to define or describe. The moment when Aisha unexpectedly encounters a cleaner in the apartment and their eyes meet tells us everything we need to know in just a couple of fleeting seconds.

Nanny follows the trend of horror examining social issues. It has very little in the way of traditional jump scares, concentrating instead on a uncomfortably tense atmosphere, one that slowly escalates and which is emphasised by a powerfully distinctive visual style. Motherhood, exploitation and privilege are all explored in an impressively confident first feature, one that also boasts a subtle and layered performance from Diop. Both she and her director are names to watch for.

★★★★


Horror | Cert: 15 | London Film Festival, 7 and 8 October 2022 | Prime Video from 16 December 2022 | Dir. Nikyatu Jusu | Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Wells, Morgan Spector, Rose Decker and Leslie Uggams.

Watch our interviews with the film’s director Nikyatu Jusu and stars Anna Diop and Michelle Monaghan.

 

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