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  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: BFI London Film Festival

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A spooky, spiky story about the guilt of immigrant mothers

This assured debut from director Nikyatu Jusu is the story of Aisha (Anna Diop, fierce), who immigrates to the US from Senegal for the proverbial ‘better life’. Nanny is co-produced by horror studio Blumhouse, but don’t expect jump scares. Instead, a creepy thread runs through a film that, at its heart, is really a wrenching drama about immigrant mothers, separated families, raising children and guilt.

Aisha, who has a master’s degree in English and French, works as a nanny for Rose (Rose Decker), the child of a white couple, Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector). She saves money to bring her son over from Senegal. Jusu, who wrote the film, illustrates this simple storyline with mythical resonances, race relations, recurring themes and a striking visual style. Cinematographer Rina Yang, fresh off her memorable work in Taylor Swift’s All Too Well: The Short Film, uses sharply coloured lighting and low-angle frames to create a brooding menace.

Adding to the atmosphere are the African myths that are weaved into the film’s fabric and visuals. Aisha reads Rose a picture book about Anansi the spider, a trickster West African god, while Aisha’s boyfriend’s grandmother (Leslie Uggams) tells her about a water spirit called Mami Wata.

It swings with aplomb from moments of tenderness and lightness to tragedy and cruelty

Aisha describes Anansi as physically small, so he must rely on his intelligence. Something similar applies to Aisha herself: she has no capital in this new land beyond her smarts, dependent as she is on her employers to pay her well. She also has nightmares about a spider crawling over her face, and the abstract wall hangings in her room also have a spidery structure.

The nightmares leak into her waking reality, where Mami Wata tends to appear, tying in with the running motif of water. Water is life-giving, as a shot of a pregnant belly reminds us – but equally, it is deadly, a fact reinforced by several near-deaths that occur around it. It’s both nurturing and destructive, descriptors that can also be applied to this film. It swings with aplomb from moments of tenderness and lightness (especially in Aisha’s budding romance with Malik, played by Sinqua Walls) to tragedy and cruelty. Its feeling and its images stayed with me long after it ended.

In US theaters Nov 23 and UK cinemas Nov 25

Written by
Sahir Avik D’souza

Cast and crew

  • Director:Nikyatu Jusu
  • Screenwriter:Nikyatu Jusu
  • Cast:
    • Sinqua Walls
    • Michelle Monaghan
    • Anna Diop
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