VOD film review: Deadly Illusions
Matthew Turner | On 14, Feb 2022
Director: Anna Elizabeth James
Cast: Kristin Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Greer Grammar, Shanola Hampton
Written and directed by Anna Elizabeth James, Deadly Illusion (formerly known as Grace) is a throwback to the 1990s heyday of both the erotic thriller and its close cousin, the Fill-in-the-blank-from-Hell genre, such as The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (Nanny from Hell), Unlawful Entry (Cop from Hell), The Crush (Babysitter from Hell) and so on. As such, it ticks a lot of the required erotic thriller boxes, but it also ties itself up in knots with an insane final act that’s clever in conception but not in execution.
Kristin Davies (formerly of Sex and the City) plays Mary Morrison, the semi-retired author of a successful series of novels, who’s recently had late-in-life twins with her loving husband, Tom (Dermot Mulroney). When Mary’s publisher offers her a large amount of money for a new novel, she declines, seemingly out of fear that she “becomes a different person” when she’s writing.
However, when Tom confesses that he’s decimated their finances, Mary’s forced to take on the new book, which in turn means hiring a nanny to look after their two young children. After an exhausting interview process, Mary hires sweet-natured Grace (Greer Grammer, daughter of Kelsey Grammer), but is she too good to be true?
You can never fully trust a thriller in which an author is writing a book and, to be fair, Deadly Illusions clues you in early to that fact – not just in the title, but also explicitly in the script, with Mary confessing that she finds it hard to separate reality from fiction when she’s writing. That constant uncertainty as to whether or not what you’re watching is real actually works in the film’s favour, creating an unusual tension, as you’re never quite sure which way the film is going.
As for the erotic side of things, James’ script plays around with the expected conventions when it comes to sex. For one thing, Mary and Tom have a happy, active sex life, and when Grace first appears she’s almost laughably innocent and angelic, certainly no threat to their marriage. If anything, it’s Mary’s character that’s the initial transgressor, whisking Grace off for a surprisingly intimate bra shopping session when they’ve barely just met.
Indeed, as the plot develops, it’s Mary that’s fantasising about Grace – she credits the young woman with helping her break her writer’s block, and soon the pair are involved in all manner of erotic dalliances (the one involving rose petals is laugh-out-loud funny, regardless of whether or not that was the intention). And yet, Grace seems like a completely different person when she’s with Tom, so what’s really happening? Is Mary imagining an affair with Grace while, in reality, Grace is having an affair with Tom? Is Grace actually having simultaneous affairs with both? Is it just all in Mary’s head? Or is something darker going on?
The thriller part takes longer to show up than the erotic part, but it triggers an absolutely crackers final act. In a standard thriller, you’d get explanatory flashbacks, but here the flashbacks give you two versions of the truth without telling you which version is correct. Ultimately, your enjoyment of the film will hinge on whether you find that ambiguity deeply annoying or part of the fun when it comes to unpicking it all afterwards.