January 17, 2023 – This film is both too positive and not horrible enough for most fans of horror movies, but that is precisely why I like it so much. Instead, it is subtle, iconoclastic and exquisitely crafted. Most horror films dial up the volume and hit you with all the finesse of a sledgehammer. This is more like a velvet hammer. It is streaming on Amazon Prime videos.
The main character is Aisha (Anna Diop of “Us”) a woman from Senegal who is trying to earn enough money in America as a nanny to bring her son to America. Dignified, with a regal bearing, she seems to fit well into the household of Ana (played by Michelle Monaghan of “Mission: Impossible — Fallout”) and Adam (Morgan Spector of “A Vigilante”) caring for the couple's young daughter, Rose (Rose Decker).
Trouble starts with Ana neglecting to pay Aisha for overtime. Ana and Adam are gone at odd hours, leaving Aisha to care for Rose at times she would rather be at home. There seems to be trouble in the marriage between Ana and Adam, with Aisha being caught in the middle.
Aisha takes comfort in the internet face time she sometimes gets with her son, Lamine (Jahleel Kamara) who is being cared for by her sister, Mariatou (Olamide Candide-Johnson) in Senegal. She has not seen her son in person for a year. She becomes anxious, however, when her increasingly erratic working schedule, and the time difference between New York City and Senegal makes it difficult to connect with her son.
Then she starts having strange dreams and visions involving water. In one of them, she is attacked by a mermaid. Her boyfriend, Malik (Sinqua Walls of “The 15:17 to Paris”) tries to comfort Aisha as she becomes increasingly agitated. Malik's grandmother, Kathleen (Leslie Uggams of the “Deadpool” movies) a woman of wisdom and strong spirituality, advises her that the mermaid, a feature of African spirituality, may actually want to help her in some way.
The nightmares and visions almost seem as though Aisha is being attacked by a ghost or some malevolent spirit. Her relationship with her employers becomes more complicated when she gets into arguments with Amy over a lapse in her oversight of Rose and the spicy food she has been giving Rose. Amy hates spicy food, but Rose and Adam both like it. Adam also makes a pass at Aisha, which further complicates things.
Aisha finally gets some of her back pay from Adam and is able to buy tickets for Mariatou and her son to come to New York. Aisha hopes that their arrival in New York will turn things around for her, but then things go from bad to worse. Yet another major drama unfolds.
This is the very impressive feature film debut for writer and director Nikyatu Jusu, an award-winning director from Sierra Leon. The characters are complex and compelling. The story moves along smoothly with no wasted moments, keeping my interest throughout. I was especially captivated by the film avoiding the usual horror film clichés. Also, the film seems to show supernatural events, but they can also be explained in non-supernatural ways.
I loved the film's surprise ending, which is very atypical for a horror film, but it fits perfectly in this one. Another thing that makes this film unusual is that the main character is a strong, black woman. That is very rare in American cinema. I fully expected Aisha to be cast as the victim in this movie, defeated by the overwhelming forces set against her.
There is an unfortunate tendency in our society to want to put women, particularly minority women, in their place. Aisha is a woman who refuses to be put down in order make her persecutors feel more powerful. Aisha is a woman who stands up for herself, and against those in power. Anna Diop leads a strong cast of actors in this movie. This film rates an A.
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