A young woman seeking to escape the doldrums of a dreary life often pretends to be something she is not in the engaging psychological thriller Nancy. When she sees a newscast about a long-missing kidnap victim, however, reality blurs even further for her.
Andrea Riseborough, who played the haunting title character in last year’s gonzo horror outing Mandy, gives a breathtaking performance as the title character of this film, as well. Nancy’s mother Betty (Ann Dowd, who played Joan in Hereditary) is a verbally abusive near-invalid, and highly likely one of the main reasons that Nancy makes up fantastic tales such as having recently vacationed in North Korea. After Nancy is caught in an elaborate lie by a grieving father (John Leguizamo, giving a terrific performance in a small role), Betty passes away. Nancy sees a news item on television about a couple still searching for their daughter who was kidnapped more than two decades earlier, and her face seems to almost perfectly match the age-progression photo shown.
J. Smith Cameron and Steve Buscemi co-star as those hopelessly optimistic parents, Ellen and Leo Lynch, and give riveting performances that capture the anguish and longing with which their characters have lived for so long. When Nancy visits them and tells them that she believes she is their long lost daughter Brooke, the film blends riveting drama and intriguing mystery elements that keep viewers guessing until the very end. The trio of performers put on an acting clinic, and one can’t help but feel for Ellen, who heartbreakingly sorely hopes that Nancy is indeed their missing daughter; Leo, who is the more doubtful and cautious of the wedded pair; and Nancy herself, who seems to recall certain events from her being a toddler with the couple. These are three superb actors giving outstanding performances, and this is reason enough to highly recommend Nancy.
Writer/director Christina Choe has crafted an extraordinary debut that weaves a web of suspense and mystery, with a main character who can’t be trusted from the beginning of the film, but who manages to carry an air of sympathy about her, nevertheless. The proceedings are subdued, understated, and bleak, and expertly punctuated by Zoe White’s striking cinematography and Peter Rayburn’s often chilling score. Choe and her cast members stay clear of ramped-up melodrama, allowing the enigmatic spell of Nancy to unfold at its own pace, and making the journey to its climax all the more nail-biting.
Nancy screened on January 31, 2019, as part of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival.(4 / 5)