Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Nanny, Produced by Blumhouse

Aisha is not like Alice in The Brady Bunch. She doesn’t feel like one of the family. However, Rose, her little charge, took to her immediately and her often-absent hipster father isn’t so bad either. Aisha can even handle Rose’s neurotic mom Amy. Instead, the real danger might be coming from her homeland in Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny, produced by Blumhouse, which opens Wednesday in New York.

Aisha is an illegal immigrant, because of course she is. Modern filmmakers are conditioning audiences to automatically assume immigrants like Aisha must be here illegally. Supposedly, Rose is a fussy eater with behavioral issues, but she rarely gives Aisha trouble. Instead, Amy is a real pain, who often “forgets” to pay Aisha. Presumably, Adam “fetishizes” the Third World subjects he shoots as a photo-journalist, but he generally tries to be an “ally.”

Regardless, Aisha has bigger problems, like the son in Senegal she only sees over whatsapp. Initially, her guilt seems to be metastasizing into nightmares and brief hallucinations, but the dreams and visions are growing steadily more severe and macabre. Yet, Aisha just keeps shaking them off.

That gets to the real problem of
Nanny, which is billed as an elevated horror film. You can only watch so many nightmares that end when the dreamer wakes before an ostensive horror film becomes a drama about sleep disorder. There are some intriguing references to the traditional spirits of Senegal, but Jusu devotes far more time to the dysfunctional dynamics of Rose’s family—and we’ve seen that all before.

Nevertheless, Leslie Uggams has our complete attention when she explains (as Kathleen, the spiritualist grandmother of Aisha’s boyfriend Malik) how the spirits might be reaching out to her, in potentially dangerous ways. Eventually, Jusu and her lead thesp, Anna Diop deliver a searing jolt of anguished emotion, but Jusu then undercuts her, by leaning into ambiguity rather a any sort of payoff.

The cast is excellent, particularly Uggams and Sinqua Walls as Malik. Unfortunately, Jusu’s pacing is often rather ponderous, which is surprising, because she helmed one of the best episodes of
Two Sentence Horror Stories,Only Child,” which also involved a young, resentful child presumably under the influence of bad spirits. Frankly, viewers are better off streaming Jusu’s episode on Netflix. Nanny is just too betwixt-and-between to recommend when it opens tomorrow (11/23) in New York at the IFC Center.