Nanny, a new 2022 movie now streaming on Prime Video, combines the real-life horror of the American immigrant experience with supernatural horror. After all, what could be more horrifying than the realization that the American Dream will never be a reality?
Written and directed by Nikyatu Jusu in her feature directorial debut, Nanny was a critical hit when it first premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January. Critics particularly praised the performance of Senegalese-American actor Anna Diop in the lead role, even if not everyone was fully on board with the film’s surreal, dreamy plot.
Cinephiles have been hearing about the film since Sundance 2022, and now finally have a chance to watch Nanny on Prime Video. If you got lost or confused along the way, don’t worry, because Decider is here to help. Read on for a thorough breakdown of the Nanny movie plot and the Nanny movie ending explained.
Nanny movie plot explained:
Aisha (Anna Diop) is a Senegalese immigrant who is hired to work as a nanny for a wealthy couple on New York’s Upper East Side, to look after their daughter, Rose. Aisha’s own son, Lamine, is still in Senegal under the care of her cousin, Mariatou. Aisha is trying to save up money to buy a plane ticket for both her son and her cousin to come to New York.
The nanny job starts off OK. But then Rose’s mother Amy (Michelle Monaghan) starts coming home later and later. Amy also starts “forgetting” to pay Aisha what she is owed, and does not keep the fridge stocked with food. As a result, Aisha starts feeding Rose Senegalese food, which Rose seems to like. Rose’s father Adam (Morgan Spector) is more reliable in paying Aisha, but he is reluctant to be in charge of the money. Also, he tries to kiss Aisha, which is pretty gross of him.
The late hours mean it’s hard for Aisha to FaceTime with her son, especially once her cousin starts dodging her calls. But it’s not all bad. Through the job, Aisha meets and begins dating the handsome front desk security guard, Malik (Sinqua Walls). Aisha meets Malik’s grandmother, who tells Aisha about Mami Wati, an African mermaid spirit that “lures sexuality, money, and promises of fertility.” Aisha thinks that she saw Mami Wata in the Hudson River. It’s just one of many strange, upsetting visions that Aisha begins to have.
After reading Rose a book about Anansi the Spider, Aisha has nightmares about spiders crawling into her mouth and up the walls. She also has a recurring nightmare that she is drowning and suffocating in the guest bedroom, which is where Amy asks her to sleep for “overnights.” That might partially be explained by the growing mold on the guest room walls—black mold can cause brain fog, confusion, and even hallucinations.
After an incident in which Aisha blacks out in a public pool and sees a vision of a mermaid, she consults Malik’s grandmother. Grandma tells Aisha that both Anansi and Mami Wata are “figures of survival and resistance for oppressed people. They challenge the dominant order through chaos.” Aisha wonders what these spirits want her to do, and Grandma replies that Aisha ought to be asking what the spirits can do for her.
Amy asks Aisha to do yet another overnight, and Aisha agrees, on the condition that Amy pays her double. That night, Aisha has a terrifying hallucinatory episode that results in her holding a knife over Rose in the bathtub. Rose is unharmed, and the child tells Aisha that it was Lamine who made Aisha behave that way. “He’s jealous,” Rose says. “Anansi told me.”
Nanny movie ending explained:
After the overnight, Aisha finally has enough money to buy a plane ticket for Lamine and her cousin, Mariatou. She eagerly waits at the airport gate, ready to greet her son… but he never appears. After searching the airport, she calls Mariatou’s cell, and finds her outside, alone, waiting for a cab. Aisha confronts her cousin and demands to know where Lamine is. Mariatou confesses that Lamine drowned in the ocean. She hadn’t known how to break the news to Aisha.
Devastated, Aisha goes back to the spot on the Hudson River where she saw Mami Wata earlier. Wearing a backpack full of material to weigh her down, Aisha steps off the dock and attempts to take her own life via drowning, the same way her son died. (This also parallels the many nightmares she had about drowning.) As she sinks to the bottom of the river, Aisha sees a vision of her son floating on the surface. She tries to swim up to him and is then hoisted up by Mami Wata to the surface. When she comes to, she is on the dock, surrounded by EMT rescue workers, Malik, and Malik’s grandmother. The grandmother tells the EMT workers to be careful because Aisha is pregnant.
In a series of quick images, we see Aisha pregnant with Malik’s child, the newborn baby, and Aisha laughing with Malik and their family. In the final shot of the movie, Aisha is curled up on her side in the bathtub, in the fetal position like an unborn child. The implication here is that Aisha is able to build a new life in the U.S. with her new family, but will always be haunted by the ghost of her son Lamine.
As for whether the spirits of Anansi and Mami Wata were really haunting Aisha, or whether it was all in her head—that’s up to the audience to decide. In the end, Nanny is less of a horror movie and more of a quiet drama with horror elements. Kind of like the real-life immigrant experience.