Greetings again from the darkness. The first feature film from writer-director Nikyatu Jusu is a supernatural psychological thriller that may or may not belong in the horror genre. It’s filled with original concepts, innovative camera shots, and a truly powerful lead performance. Despite all it has going for it, the film never quite gels for us, instead creating a bit of confusion as to whether it was trying to make a point or not.
Anna Diop (US, 2019) stars as Aisha. She seizes the role from her first scene and never relinquishes control. Aisha is an immigrant from Senegal who has come to the United States for a better life. She left her son behind in the home country until she can send for him. Aisha is educated and overqualified for the domestic help job she takes for a couple in a swanky Manhattan apartment. However, she’s committed to doing what she must to reunite with her son Lamine, whom she sees on FaceTime. Rose (Rose Spector) is the young girl she is hired to look after, and her parents are Amy (Michelle Monaghan), an anxiety-filled working mom trying to ascend the corporate ladder, and Adam (Morgan Spector), a photojournalist who thinks he can relate to Aisha’s background. Amy and Adam have a strained relationship, and neither seems keen to be a parent to Rose.
We witness Aisha’s ease with Rose, as well as the tension she has with Amy and Adam who seem to take advantage of her in every possible way – including slow payment, cheating her on hours worked, last minute schedule changes, and even invading her personal space. All of this builds in Aisha to the point where her dreams/nightmares/daydreams become a real issue. Water is featured heavily, and we initially relate this to her feeling like she is drowning in the frustrating situation. However soon African folklore enters with spiders and mermaids, and the visions become more alarming. We realize the water has more significance.
The use of color is startling. Aisha’s workplace (the apartment) is washed out gray with cold stone surfaces, while her personal time features vibrant primary colors and music. A sweet romance with Malik (Sinqua Walls), the doorman, provides Aisha with hope. Unfortunately, the psychological character study that has been building through most of the film turns to mostly horror in the final act. The film excels, as does Ms. Diop, when the stress and tension and frustrations of the real world are in the forefront. Still, despite the often bumpy storylines, Aisha’s character and the visuals in the film provide high expectations for Nikyatu Jusu as a filmmaker, and announces Anna Diop as a true leading actor.
Opening NY and LA on November 23
Expanding to Additional Markets December 2
Releases on Prime Video December 16