Sundance’s big 2022 winner is finally a horror film: Nanny, with a heart-piercing twist – CNET

A woman flails underneath dark water, her face obscured and her hair floating above her

Nanny’s protatgonist, Aisha, is a Senegalese immigrant who strives toward her own American dream while a supernatural presence threatens to unravel it. 

Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival awarded one of its biggest prizes to a horror movie for the first time in its nearly 40-year history Friday. But beware: Nanny‘s taut story builds supernatural tension to a shocking climax that knocks the breath out of you. 

And you still have a last chance to stream Nanny Sunday. 

Fading in from blackness, the first images of the film reveal the sleeping face of protagonist Aisha, her eyelids fluttering gently, with ripples of white sheets framing her. But the sheets shift, moved by an unseen force, and some ripples reveal themselves to be pooling water lapping her head. As the musical tones shift darker and quiet to silence, Aisha wakes, gasping, a black spider crawling across her cheek.  

The spider, the water, the terror felt in that liminal state between waking life and nightmare: These all are threads that writer-director Nikyatu Jusu weaves into a tightly drawn tale, one that introduces beings from West African folklore into a modern-day horror story of one Black immigrant struggling to reunite with her child, as she traverses the menaces of race and class in America. 

Aisha, we learn, is a Senegalese immigrant mother, separated from her young son back home. Piecing together her own American dream, she hopes to earn enough to reunite with him in her new country. “Will it be cold?” her son, Lamine, worries over the phone, remembering snowy pictures sent by his mom. “I will have a very warm coat waiting for you,” she reassures him, smiling before Lamine’s image freezes and their video call drops. 

Nikyatu Jusu stands in a black dress with her arms gently folded, in front of a tree with red foliage.Nikyatu Jusu stands in a black dress with her arms gently folded, in front of a tree with red foliage.

Nanny writer-director Nikyatu Jusu has chipped away for about eight years at the project that became Sundance award-winner Nanny.

Sundance Film Festival

When she lands a seemingly lucrative job as a nanny to a wealthy white couple in Manhattan, her dream appears within reach. But as she cares for their daughter, a violent supernatural presence gathers force, an undercurrent to the sinister power dynamics between a Black undocumented worker and her privileged white employers.

Nanny is a terrifying film, but the potency of its horror grows from Jusu’s restraint from tropes. The parents don’t flagrantly abuse Aisha to give the film horrifying punch. Their daughter doesn’t devolve into the genre’s evil-child cliche. Nanny has no jump-scares. 

Instead, the horror of Nanny is Aisha’s singular tragedy. She’s tormented by menacing forces she’s grappling to fathom, her connection to their West African magic as fragile as the one with her faraway son. The film foreshadows its final twist with clues planted shrewdly along the way. These portents make Nanny’s shocking climax all the more gut-wrenching. 

The loudest discordant note in the otherwise skillfully crafted film is a coda in the final minutes, with an abrupt tonal shift that washes over you so quickly it’s hard to grok what just happened.

But praised as “visually stunning; elegantly acted; impeccably designed, from sound to visual effects and everything in between; and edited with precision,” the jury for Sundance 2022‘s US dramatic film competition awarded Nanny its Grand Jury Prize, considered one of the most prestigious and competitive awards at the fest.  

“The story builds on itself, scene after scene, offering the audience a viscerally spiritual experience, should they choose to embrace it,” Chelsea Barnard, a juror, said of Nanny as she awarded the Grand Jury Prize to a shocked and tearful Jusu

Past winners of the award have gone to Minari, which evolved into an Oscar darling last year; and Fruitvale Station, which helped usher director Ryan Coogler to mainstream blockbuster success with Black Panther (and a runner-up position for Time’s person of the year).

How to stream Nanny

Nanny, like most of Sundance’s indie films, wasn’t created with a studio-backed theatrical-release plan baked in. As of Friday, it hadn’t nailed down a deal for distribution. But Sundance, for the second time in the pandemic, is happening largely online this year, with its movies streaming straight to your living room TV, computer or phone. The victory lap for Sundance winners is virtual too: Nanny has a second-round of online screenings available as part of the festival’s awards weekend. 

Single-screening tickets to stream Nanny are $20. Available on Sunday starting at 9 a.m. PT, the single-screening ticket to Nanny unlocks the film until 4:59 a.m. PT Monday morning. Once you start watching 97-minute Nanny, you’re limited to five hours of viewing, during which you can pause and rewind as much as you want. 

If you can handle a hefty price tag, a $300 Awards Weekend Pass also grants you access to Nanny plus seven other screenings of prize winners. Highlights that you could stream in addition to Nanny include After Yang, a movie set in the near future about a father and daughter try to save the life of Yang, their beloved robotic family member, and Fire of Love, a documentary about scientists and lovers Katia and Maurice Krafft, who died in a volcanic explosion doing the very thing that brought them together: unraveling the mysteries of volcanoes by capturing the most explosive imagery ever recorded. 

Sundance’s films are accessible through the fest’s main site. You can set up your TV to stream from your computer with a cable connection or by casting wirelessly. TV viewing is simplest for people with RokuAmazon Fire TV or Apple TV, thanks to Sundance’s dedicated streaming apps. Sundance also has apps for streaming to iOS or Android mobile gadgets. 

If you’re interested in watching Nanny with a single-film ticket, you’ll need to register an online Sundance account and then start on the ticketing page. Underneath the green tile titled “Single Film Ticket,” click the box that says “Select a screening.” This will launch a pop-up menu where you can see the screenings available with tickets (and those that may be sold out.) Select Nanny (or any film you want) to add to your cart and proceed to checkout to pay. The Awards Weekend Package is also available on the ticketing page; click the “Add to Cart” button underneath directly underneath its green tile and go straight to checkout. 

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