Having an agenda is not the same thing as delivering a worthwhile message, nor is having a message one thinks worthwhile the same thing as having a valuable piece of entertainment. Evil Nanny, despite what the bluntness of such a title would have you believe, is not an exploitative story of a nanny prone to violence, but is instead a protracted tale of one woman’s exploitation of landlord-tenant law, which is just about as exciting as it sounds. And even if you accept Evil Nanny as a message movie, it’s a message about a virtually non-existent issue.
The film opens on Jen (Lindsay Elston) setting fire to her foster home after being kicked out for some unknown offense. Cut to an indeterminate amount to time in the future, and Jen is casually reinventing herself to apply for a nanny position with a family whose matriarch is just starting a new job and needs someone around to care for the kids. After leading the couple, Fay and Tim (Nicole Sterling and Matthew Pohlkamp, respectively), to believe that she has extensive experience caring for children, the family allows her into their home, offering a room and utilities in exchange for her services. When Fay comes home to discover Jen allowing the children to get into dangerous situations, she fires the nanny and demands she leave the premises at once. However, Jen starts abusing the tenancy laws of the state in order to maintain her residence, terrorizing the family with noise and scandal until they will pay her off.
So, in actuality, the so-called “evil” nanny is much less evil than she is manipulative and obnoxious, earlier arson notwithstanding. Despite some decent performances from all the key players, the screenplay places a false equivalency between the casual cruelty of a bad roommate and actually harmful crime such as assault and murder. Jen’s actions do eventually escalate to filing restraining orders on fallacious grounds and then (gasp!) actual violence, but only once the film finally decides to become a thriller rather than a warning on the perils of being a landlord.
Screenwriter Naomi L. Selfman must have had some sort of personal experience that needs working out of her system, because with as passionately as this screenplay advocates against tenants’ rights, the details of Jen’s manipulation of the legal system are awfully specific. The family’s attorney claims to have “seen this all before,” an attestation that this could happen to anyone who has a spare bedroom they’ve lent out. Given my own experience in the legal field, I don’t buy it, especially considering how cartoonishly calculating and foreknowing Jen’s manipulations turn out to be. Could this happen? Sure. But the odds of it are much less likely than the film wants you to believe, and the screenplay is riddled with so many contrivances that it desperately wants you to ignore as it tries to push its false reality all the harder.
But leaving the film’s self-professed realism aside, there just isn’t much here to make the film engaging or tense. Sure, Jen is a sociopathic horror that I would never wish to have as a tenant in my home, but her manipulation of her landlords is neither titillating nor fun, which begs the question of why I’m even watching a film called Evil Nanny. Despite how game the cast clearly is for this substandard material, the evil of this nanny is relatively benign.