A spellbinding blend of social observation and artful shocks, the debut feature from Nikyatu Jusu plunges into the increasingly fractured consciousness of Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese immigrant who takes a job as a nanny for a wealthy white family in New York City. Separated from her own son and casually exploited by her employers, Aisha finds herself consumed by unsettling visions and a growing rage—one that could either destroy or empower her. This visually captivating tour de force—the first horror movie to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival—distills complex ideas about motherhood, inequality, and cultural dislocation into a work of dreamlike dread.
The Criterion Collection presents Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny on Blu-ray on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 2.00:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a 4K master provided by Amazon Studios.
Nanny was shot digitally, so the digital presentation here will be limited to the original photography, but the results are pleasing enough. The film opens with a fade-in that delivers brutal banding effects that immediately lower expectations. However, this proves to be the only severe occurrence, with a couple of minor instances of the effect later on, only evident if you’re looking for them. Past that, the digital presentation is pretty clean, delivering decent detail and texture, never looking soft outside of intentional moments.
Black levels look inky and rich, though the range in the shadows is limited, which I suspect is the intended look (it appears to be inherent to the photography, at least). Color plays an integral part in the film’s look, with plenty of moments featuring striking blues, greens, and violets, and they're all rendered wonderfully.
In the end, Criterion delivers a perfectly adequate presentation of the film.
Criterion includes the film’s original 5.1 surround soundtrack, delivered in DTS-HD MA. Dialogue and effects sound great, with superb range and fidelity. As one would expect with the film’s horror touches, the mix gets very creative when it comes to building tension and unease. There are plenty of moments where the score and creepy sound effects move around the viewer, either in low whispers or loud booms. The lower frequency also chimes in with subtle rumbles where appropriate. It’s an effective mix in the end.
The features prove to be a bit of a bust, especially following another recent release of theirs for another film exploring the immigrant experience, Farewell Amor, which is packed with several good supplements, including a fantastic audio commentary featuring the director. Sadly, there is no commentary from the director here (which would have proved invaluable, I feel), and Criterion instead keeps it simple by assembling a new interview program from footage shot by Amazon featuring Jusu, director of photography Rina Yang, and actors Anna Diop and Michelle Monaghan. I was expecting general promotional soundbites, but the content ended up being much more than that, with Jusu discussing her film influences before getting into the themes she tackles in the film and what it was like trying to get the movie out there at the height of COVID. I also rather enjoyed Yang’s comments about the film’s look and Diop’s and Monaghan’s overview of their roles and the relationship between their characters. Unfortunately, with a brief 17-minute runtime, it's not all that in-depth. I’m a little surprised Criterion didn’t record a new interview with Jusu, as they have been pretty good at more directly involving the filmmakers.
At the very least, they do include Jusu’s short 17-minute film Suicide by Sunlight, another socially conscious drama with a horror twist, featuring a plot about a half-human vampire who just wants shared custody of her kids, her ex determined to stop that. It’s a slow burn like the main feature, but it’s densely packed for its short runtime with all sorts of metaphors (or at least what I was reading as metaphors) about Black women's and mothers' experiences. I’m also sure there’s something to a plot point about how Black vampires—unlike their White counterparts—can still go outside during the day thanks to melanin, meaning they can pass as humans and not be seen as vampires. It’s interesting, but I feel like this is maybe a minor part of a bigger idea, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a future project of Jusu’s ends up expanding on this.
The disc then closes with the film's trailer.
But sadly, that’s it. Despite the film’s themes around immigrant experiences in America and the film’s Sundance win, there’s no other content, not even academic, outside of an essay by Angelica Jade Bastién in the included insert, which is at least lengthy and worth a read. It’s all very underwhelming, especially since it does feel there is a lot more to explore about the film.
Criterion has been great as of late when it comes to putting together special editions for the films of new and up-and-coming filmmakers, but this one falls far short of those releases, feeling like something any studio would have thrown together for a newer film. The A/V presentation is, at least, fine.