Review: ‘Nanny,’ Immigrant Horror Story

Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector star in a haunting drama, directed by Nikyatu Jusu. 

It’s a very common story: a wealthy family hires someone to look after their child while they work long hours to support their lavish lifestyle. 

Aisha (Anna Diop), an immigrant to the U.S. from Senegal, begins a new job with a new family in Manhattan, hopeful that she will soon earn enough to bring her young son to live with her. The family appears to be ideal. 

Amy (Michelle Monaghan) is gracious and inviting, the apartment/residence is lavishly appointed, and the little girl, Rose (Rose Decker), is well-mannered and polite. Returning home from out-of-town business a few days later, Adam (Morgan Spector) is surprised to see that a nanny has already been hired, and is initially guarded, though he puts on the airs that are expected. 

So far, so good. We learn how Aisha became a single mother in Senegal and understand why she emigrated to the U.S. She even meets a promising young man, Malik (Sinqua Walls), and they begin a relationship that looks like it has a future. 

Signposts begin popping up, however, that signal trouble lies ahead. Aisha finds herself under increasing pressure to deal with turmoil that arises, none of it of her own doing. As she slowly becomes completely stressed out, she also starts to experience disturbing dreams that truly feel like nightmares, things that cannot be easily explained away or dismissed. 

Nikyatu Jusu makes her feature-film debut, writing an intricate, layered, and character-based story and directing it with fluid, haunting grace. Rather than rely on supernatural objects or traditional scary stories, she forges her own path, burning down everything in its way to  make something truly unique. 

She is aided and abetted by the performance by Anna Diop, who makes the role her own with understated ease and relatable anxiety and unease, and Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector, who support and enhance the picture and story, along with Sinqua Walls, young Rose Decker, and Leslie Uggans, as Malik’s unusually insightful mother. 

As a kind of visual tone poem, Nanny burrows its way under the skin while also mesmerizing with its command of precisely calculated framing and visuals. In its own quiet way, it’s quite stunning. 

The film opens Wednesday, November 22 in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles and will expand to additional cities on December 2. It will begin streaming December 16 on Prime Video. For more information about the film, visit the official site.