NANNY (2022) – Story of Undocumented Immigrant Nanny Better Drama than Horror Movie

0

NANNY (2022), now streaming on Prime Video, is marketed as a drama/horror movie, which it is, but it’s a much better drama than it is a horror movie, and as such, I almost wish it had skipped its supernatural elements.

Written and directed by Nikyatu Jusu with a serious command of storytelling, NANNY tells the story of undocumented immigrant Aisha (Anna Diop) living in New York City and getting her first real big job, working as a nanny for a wealthy couple, Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector), watching their five-year-old daughter Rose (Rose Decker) since they both work long hours. Aisha and Rose hit it off big, and Amy and Adam love the way their new nanny cares for their daughter.

All is well, except that Amy begins to be negligent in paying Aisha for all the overtime hours she puts in when she is asked to stay overnight when neither Amy nor Adam can be there. At first, Aisha hardly notices, as she is preoccupied with her own son who is back in Africa, and she misses him dearly. She is saving up to bring him to America, and so when Amy continues to not pay her, this grates on her even more. But she needs the job.

Things grow more complex when Aisha begins having weird experiences which seem like supernatural encounters with some unknown entity. Then Adam makes a pass at her. But still, she needs that job. She eventually starts dating a man from her apartment building, Malik (Sinqua Walls) who has a son of his own, around the same age as Aisha’s son. She also meets Malik’s grandmother Kathleen (Leslie Uggams), who is a seer with experience with the supernatural, and she begins to school Aisha concerning her own experiences.

All of this is well-acted, well-written, and well-directed, and so I was all in, along for the ride, but where this story ultimately goes is a disappointment, mostly because it goes nowhere. The revelation at the end is surprisingly for a movie that up until that point got all the storytelling parts right, sloppily done in a very unrealistic sequence. Plus, the revelation itself, while tragic, is handled so quicky, it doesn’t pack much of a punch.

And it also doesn’t truly impact the main story in this movie, which is about Aisha’s strained relationship with Rose’s parents, but by film’s end, they’re nowhere to be found, and the story of Aisha’s dealings with them is mostly forgotten.

The supernatural elements are subtle and refreshingly realistic, and I appreciated that. The horror elements here are not dumb. They are smartly handled. They just don’t have much of an impact. NANNY plays like a Hallmark movie that forgot what it was for a little while, took a detour into the supernatural for a brief bit, then went back to being a Hallmark movie.

That really isn’t a fair assessment. I don’t like Hallmark movies, and I definitely was enjoying NANNY, but while it attempts to be something of a horror movie, ultimately, it’s a love story, and while the whole thing doesn’t play like a Hallmark movie, it certainly ends that way.

I enjoyed the work of writer/director Nikyatu Jusu here. She is in command of the storytelling process from beginning to end. I enjoyed the characters, especially Aisha, and I wanted to see what was going to happen to her. Unfortunately, while she suffers a life altering incident, that’s the one part of the story that isn’t expertly handled, and as a result, combined with the very subtle supernatural elements, prevents this from being much of a horror movie.

Anna Diop is excellent as Aisha. She’s in most of the movie, and she delivers. She makes Aisha a very strong character, one you can build a story around. I really cared for her and wanted to learn more about the supernatural episodes which haunted her throughout the second half of the movie.

Michelle Monaghan as Amy and Morgan Spector as Adam were also both very good as the parents who become increasingly annoying as the movie goes on. One can argue that the most horror in this movie comes from Aisha’s dealings with them. Yet, they are both portrayed as real people, which makes them all the more difficult to like.

Sinqua Walls makes for a dashing love interest, and the talented Leslie Uggams shines in the pivotal role as Grandmother Kathleen who shares her supernatural insights with Aisha in scenes which manage to keep all the dialogue real and authentic.

I would have enjoyed NANNY more had it been a straight drama about a young undocumented immigrant nanny and the challenges she faces working for a difficult couple. This part of the movie is spot-on throughout.

The supernatural elements are less compelling, mostly because they are so understated and of less consequence.

NANNY is worth a look, but only with the understanding that this example of quiet horror is so quiet it’s pretty much inconsequential.

I give it two stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

THE BLACK PHONE (2022) – Horror Movie Based on Joe Hill’s Short Story Among Best Horror of the Year

0

I’m ba–ack!

Yes, I’m happy to say that for the first time since pre-Covid days, since April 2020, I finally returned to the movie theater! While I continued to review movies at home over the various streaming services, it just wasn’t the same. I can’t tell you how good it felt to watch a movie on the big screen again! Actually, I can tell you: it felt friggin good!

And I chose a pretty good movie to see as well, because THE BLACK PHONE (2022) is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen this year.

Mind you, I haven’t seen a whole lot of horror movies this year. But still!

THE BLACK PHONE takes place in 1978 and is the story of a serial killer known as The Grabber who drives a black van and snatches children off the streets. Finney (Mason Thames) and his younger sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) go about their business as best they can, dealing with school and bullies and their alcoholic single dad who can’t get over the death of their mom, and they try not to think much about The Grabber, but things change when one of Finney’s best friends becomes the killer’s latest victim.

Gwen, who like her mother before her, has dreams which sometimes are vision of real things, sees black balloons in one of her dreams about one of the missing children, and when the police catch wind of this, they are intrigued because it’s a detail from the abductions that was never leaked to the public, and so they want to know who told her that. In one of the movie’s livelier scenes, Gwen tells the police it was only a dream and pushes back against their suspicions that she, a young girl, may have inside information about the abductions. She does tell them that she sometimes sees things in her dreams that prove to be real.

And when Finney becomes the next victim of The Grabber, Gwen tries to force herself to dream about him, but that’s not how things work. Finney, now a prisoner, finds himself locked in a basement room with only a mattress and a disconnected black phone, with little hope of escaping the weird Grabber (Ethan Hawke) who speaks to him from behind various eerie and chilling masks. But when the disconnected phone rings, and Finney answers it, he hears the voice of one of the Grabber’s victims. Through the black phone, Finney hears from all of the Grabber’s victims, each with veiled advice on how he can possibly escape.

THE BLACK PHONE was directed by Scott Derrickson, a talented director whose previous horror movies include THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005), SINISTER (2012), and DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014). These are all pretty decent horror movies, with SINISTER probably being his best-known horror flick, but his work here on THE BLACK PHONE is by far his best.

First off, he captures the look and feel of 1978 perfectly, and I should know, as in 1978 I was about the same age as main character Finney. There’s even a scene where Finney and Gwen are home watching the TV show EMERGENCY!, which was the show back then for kids and teens of a certain age. But Derrickson does more than just capture the period. He’s made a movie that is actually scary, which is a rare thing these days. It’s scary because he does a great job with the characters, making Finney and Gwen two young characters you really care about. He does it without jump scares or gratuitous violence and gore. And he does it through compelling storytelling.

Of course, he’s working with superior source material, as the screenplay by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill was based on the short story of the same name by Joe Hill, who’s a terrific writer. Cargill also wrote SINISTER, as well as the first DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) movie, which Derrickson also directed.

The story here combines the lurid tale of a creepy serial killer of children, with the supernatural goings-on of both Gwen’s dreams and the black phone itself, along with the raw unpleasantness of life for these kids even without The Grabber in their neighborhood, as Finney’s and Gwen’s dad is not only drinking all the time but he’s also abusive. And the story takes the time to even explain their dad’s abusiveness— not to excuse it away— but to show why, that is he is stuck in grief over his wife’s suicide, who took her own life when the voices inside her head became uncontrollable, which is why he is merciless towards Gwen when she speaks of her dreams because he doesn’t want the same thing to happen to his daughter. It’s all superior storytelling.

The casting is also a strength.

The two child leads are fantastic. Mason Thames is perfect as Finney, the kid who can’t stand up for himself yet possesses strength he didn’t know he had, strength he will need when he fights for his life against The Grabber. And Madeleine McGraw is equally as good as Gwen. She has some of the best scenes in the movie, when she shows off her fiery personality, like when she comes to the rescue of her brother when he’s being beat up by bullies. But her best moment is one of the most emotional moments of the entire movie, the scene where her dad uses a whip on her in retaliation for the police having visited him at work with questions about her dreams. The emotions she brings out in this scene are way above what you would expect in a horror movie.

And Ethan Hawke is completely creepy and sinister as The Grabber. And he performs without really showing his face, not until the end, and that’s because he’s always wearing a mask, or a variation of the same mask.

Actually, the argument can be made that the true star of this movie is the mask created by horror icon Tom Savini. It is creepy!!!

Getting back to Ethan Hawke for a moment, what makes his performance so unsettling is he doesn’t play The Grabber like some ultimate evil monster or some vicious mindless killer, but instead he plays him with a sense of comical absurdity. With the mask and make-up, he’s almost Joker-like. There was also something in Hawke’s cadence and delivery that made me think of Michael McKean.

Scott Derrickson also frames several scenes to perfection. The scene where Finney is warned not to take the bait and exit through the unlocked door because it’s a trap set by The Grabber, and in the next shot we see the shirtless masked Grabber sitting with a whip in hand just waiting for Finney to walk by him is shiver-inducing. There are several scenes like this.

I also enjoyed THE BLACK PHONE more than HORNS (2013), the film version of Joe Hill’s novel. While I liked that movie, it didn’t completely work for me. But THE BLACK PHONE does. It’s my favorite film version so far of a Joe Hill story, who as I said is an exceptional horror writer. And for those of you who don’t know, not that it matters, but he’s also the son of Stephen King.

THE BLACK PHONE is on par with my other favorite horror movie so far this year, X (2022), but I think I was even more impressed with THE BLACK PHONE because it’s scarier, and it scares without using as much blood and gore as was found in X.

If you like to be scared, you’ll love THE BLACK PHONE. Not only is it frightening, but it scares on multiple levels: serial killer, supernatural, and real-life.

I’d say more, but… there’s a phone ringing on the wall behind me that I have to answer.

Hey, there wasn’t a phone there, before.

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

0

big_trouble_in_little_china_poster

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) marked the fourth time director John Carpenter worked with actor Kurt Russell,  following  ELVIS (1979), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), and THE THING (1982).

Whereas time has been kind to both ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE THING—THE THING is often ranked #1 on horror fans’ “Favorite Horror Movie” lists— when they first came out, neither film was a hit.  In fact, THE THING was a box office bomb.

Kurt Russell wasn’t faring much better in 1986.  He had just come off a string of films that had performed very poorly at the box office, and the story goes that he was so worried about his box office slump that he told Carpenter to get someone else to star in BIG TROUBLE, but Carpenter told him not to worry, that he wanted him to star in the movie.

I wish I could say that BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA was a huge hit and rejuvenated the careers of both these artists, but that’s not what happened.  Like their previous few films, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA also tanked at the box office.

But like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE THING, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA has enjoyed a resurgence.  Fans nowadays like this movie.   I saw it when it first came out, and I did not like it.  I liked it so little that I never bothered to watch it again.

Until now.

And that’s because I’ve been hearing fans say good things about the movie, and I thought it was high time I gave it a second viewing.

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is a strange movie.  It’s an action adventure that takes place in Chinatown, San Francisco and involves Chinese mysticism, which gives the film a supernatural element.  It’s also a comedy, meaning that the entire thing is played for laughs.

Truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) and his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) go to the airport to pick up Wang’s girlfriend, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai).  While there, Jack flirts with a woman named Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) which provides him with a few minutes of fun before a Chinese gang shows up and kidnaps Miao.

Jack and Wang give chase, but the gang eludes them and gets away with Miao.  Wang vows to get her back, and Jack agrees to help him.  I guess no one thought to call the police. Anyway, Gracie Law shows up at their doorstep and reveals that she’s a lawyer who knows all about the Chinese mystical underworld, and she wants to help Jack and Wang as well.  They also receive help from Egg Shen (Victor Wong), a bus driver who’s also an expert on Chinese sorcery.

They need all this help because Miao has been kidnapped by David Lo Pan (James Hong), a two thousand year-old sorcerer who’s cursed to walk the earth without his physical body.  To lift the curse, he has to marry a girl with green eyes, which is why he kidnapped Miao, because she has green eyes.  It turns out that Gracie Law also has green eyes.  Suddenly Lo Pan has more choices than he knows what to do with.  Life is good.  For a while, anyway, as soon Jack and Wang show up, and they’re all about taking down Lo Pan and his supernatural army.  Good luck with that!

As I said, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is played for laughs.  There isn’t a serious bone in this one’s body.

At first, I was really enjoying this one, and during the movie’s first half, I thought my opinion of it would change.  What wasn’t to like?  It was full of 1980s nostalgia, it had Kurt Russell, lots of colorful martial art action scenes, monsters, supernatural goings on, and a neat music score by John Carpenter.

But midway through, the movie runs out of gas, and I remembered why I didn’t really like this one back in 1986.  The martial arts action scenes start to get repetitive, and a major reason why is they’re simply not very good.

The script by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein also fizzles.  Early on, things are mysterious, and the dialogue is rapid fire funny, but later, once you know Lo Pan’s story, it’s pretty ridiculous, even it if is played for laughs.  I’ve seen more believable plots on SCOOBY DOO.  And the humor definitely loses its edge, mostly because after a while it’s simply Jack and Wang dealing with one unbelivable situation after another.

The film definitely gets goofier as it goes along, becoming flat our silly rather than focusing on the action and the adventure.  Had this one had more of an edge to it, and kept the humor in the background, it would have worked better.

Kurt Russell based Jack Burton on John Wayne, and it’s apparent right from the get-go. Russell is fun to watch here because he really does capture the Duke’s onscreen persona. Similarly, Russell based Snake Plissken in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK on Clint Eastwood, which is also clearly apparent.

bigtroublelittlechinakurtrussell

Kurt Russell as Jack Burton in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

Things would change for Russell with his next movie, the hit comedy OVERBOARD (1987) in which he starred with Goldie Hawn.  And a series of hits would follow Russell over the next five years.

While Russell is entetaining in BIG TROUBLE, Dennis Dun is just OK as Wang Chi.  He lacks Russell’s charisma and larger than life qualities, which is too bad because one of the movie’s jokes is that Jack thinks he’s the hero, yet he’s constantly messing things up, and it’s Wang who’s the true hero in the movie, but at times, Dun doesn’t make this notion all that believable.

Kim Cattrall is the epitome of 1980s actresses, and she fits right in here.  She’s got the 80s hairstyle, and she plays Gracie Law with a mixture of strength and ditziness.  She could easily walk into the CHEERS bar for a drink.

bigtroubleinlittlechinakimcattrall

Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986).

Victor Wong is sufficiently knowledgable as Egg Shen, but James Hong is rather ineffective as main baddie David Lo Pan.  He spends most of the time behind make-up and special effects.

The special effects are OK.  They run hot and cold, and they’re really cheesy.  I guess that’s part of the charm for some people.

So, after my second viewing, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA remains not one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. Sadly, Carpenter would follow this up with the even worse PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987).  It would be a little while before Carpenter would find his stride again, and that would be with IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995).

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA means well.  It’s got tons of energy, and everyone looks like they’re having a grand old time.  But as the action becomes flat out goofy, the story doesn’t hold up, and the script doesn’t match the film’s inanity, as the dialogue and situations are never that funny, it all becomes rather tedious long before the end credits roll.

The trouble in Little China just isn’t all that big.

—END—