Tuesday, February 7, 2023

A Nanny and Dread

In the film Nanny (2022), which I saw recently, a Senelegese immigrant named Aisha works for an affluent white couple in their spacious New York City apartment.  She takes care of their young daughter, teaching her French, cooking her Senelegese food that the girl likes, and the nanny and daughter quickly bond. The parents, meanwhile, have issues, both personal and work-related, making life in this privileged environment a less than relaxed one. They don't always pay Aisha the amount they are supposed to on time, which is galling in and of itself but also screws up her plans.  She is trying to save money to bring over her six-year-old son in Senegal, where he is staying with her cousin.  Aisha is hardly timid in demanding the money owed her from her employers, but their excuses and self-absorption don't make things easy for her.  Meanwhile, Aisha begins to experience strange dreams and visions involving water and submersion in water and a West African mermaid spirit called Mami Wata.  The less I say about the plot from here on in the better, but suffice it to say that Nanny is an eerie and suspenseful movie that uses psychological horror to explore an immigrant's experience, her anxieties, hopes, and difficulties, the sacrifices and adjustments she has to make.   It's the first feature film by writer-director Nikyatu Jusu, and Anna Diop as Aisha, who is in virtually every scene, is very good. 

As the movie unfolded and Aisha had her disturbing visions, sometimes confusing reality with hallucination, one possible reason for these disruptions occurring to her struck me.  It's something that's likely to dawn on a lot of people watching the movie, a possibility for the film's outcome.  That outcome is confirmed by the film's end, news delivered toward the film's climax.  "It is that," I thought.  "Dammit!"  I wished it hadn't been that, but it makes utter sense and in retrospect, everything in the movie has been leading to this.  If you didn't foresee this coming, no matter; the final turn of the screw will still serve as a powerful punch.  But either way, it made me think about the difference between twists in stories and the use of dread, and how a story doesn't need a reversal or plot twist or an out of left field kicker to be effective.  You see those kinds of things so often, that strain for a final twist, that it gets redundant and forced.  In a genre like horror especially, dread is extremely effective.  A situation is set up, unease is created by what's going on, and there are any number of possible outcomes, one of which at least, without question, is an upsetting one.  You hope that outcome won't be the one chosen and you feel a sense of mounting dread thinking well, it may be that one after all.  No outlandish twists needed, no attempts at a stunning revelation.  Your dread just mounts and mounts and you hold out hope for the outcome not to be feared, which is also possible in this story, but if at the end your pessimistic expectations are met, you feel a release of your dread through emotion.  It's more of an emotional experience really than the intellectual one that the twist offers, the twist being something that appeals primarily to the mind in how it tricked you or threw you off track.  

That's not to say Nanny ends on a total downbeat note, because it doesn't.  But it does deliver on the dread all while taking you completely into the world of its main character, Aisha.  I liked it quite a bit and it's on Amazon Prime, easy to see.

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