Deadly Illusions

Brief synopsis: A semi-retired writer hires a nanny-cum-help to look after her children when a business deal her husband invested in goes bad and she feels forced to accept a lucrative deal from her publisher. She takes on a nanny to help with household chores and looking after her children.

Suffering from writer’s block, she is unsure whether her mind is playing tricks on her or if the nanny is too wonderful to be true. 

Is it any good?: Um, no, not really. With a standard made-for-tv-esque title, Deadly Illusions is lazy and uninspired. It also does not seem to know what kind of film it is supposed to be. With echoes of Shutter Island, Misery and every made-for-television thriller ever made, Deadly Illusions mistakes a meandering pace for tension, tacking on a bonkers ending that is as confusing and underwhelming as the rest of the film. 

Spoiler territory: picturesque family, semi-retired author, Mary (Kristin Davis), husband, Tom (Dermot Mulroney) and their twins, Sam (Shylo Molina) and Alex (Marie Wagenman), are having breakfast before Tom leaves to go and do an unspecified job and the twins head to school. 

Mary, alone in the house, makes a great show of getting dressed, matching her outfit, shoes, jewellery and even spectacles. All very professional. She has a meeting with her agent, Kioki (Shawn Wu), in her house. She got spruced up for a meeting in her own home and does not even fancy her agent! 

Kioki turns up at the home with his new associate, Darlene (Abella Bala), who it turns out is the backbone Kioki does not have. They want Mary to write a sequel to her bestseller. Mary is happy to let a ghostwriter do it and just collect the cheques. Kioki takes out a contract offer that he hopes she will be interested in. 

The publishing company is going through a difficult period and need Mary to come to their rescue. Right. Mary feels blindsided. Kioki mislead her. She does not want to write, regardless of the offer. Just keep sending the cheques! 

Mary shows them the door. Kioki, the suck-up, bids her farewell with a peck on the cheek and assures her the cheques will keep coming. The ballsy and, frankly, couldn’t-give-a-shit about Mary’s reputation Darlene, tells her, with a few choice words, that she should help the little people, considering that there was a time when she was a struggling writer. 

Mary, heartless superstar and above such things, suggests she should be fired. She doesn’t get her fired, so she is not that powerful. Later, the picture-perfect family are sitting down to dinner as Tom returns from work. 

He sees the contract from Mary’s meeting and asks her about it. The advance is substantial and Tom thinks she should consider it. Mary thinks they should have dinner. Later, Tom shows her he is still a stud between the sheets, satisfying her to such an extent that she has to have a cigar on the balcony post-coital. 

On the balcony, Tom’s true reasoning for his exemplary efforts comes to light. He made a bad deal six months before and wiped out half of their savings. Mary is pissed. He promised he would never do it again. He promised! Tom goes back to bed. 

The next day, Mary is at the gym with her best friend, Elaine (Shanola Hampton). She is telling her about the deal she has been offered. Elaine asks if she is going to take up the deal? Mary is not sure. She turns into a different person when she is writing. The Hulk? Mrs Hyde? 

Elaine tells her it can help her take her life in a different direction, to do stuff she wants to do – whatever the heck that means. Elaine tells her she needs a full-time sitter. What? Why? Her kids are at school during the day…anyhoo, Mary is not so sure. 

She did not spend thousands of dollars to have them – she is a little bit beyond child-rearing age so one assumes she is referring to IVF treatments, though she could be talking about buying them. It’s not clear. – so as someone else could bring them up. Elaine is insistent, giving her a battered business card, one would think she was getting a commission. 

Mary asks why she does not use them. Mary tells she cannot afford them and they only take on certain types of client. Elaine is a black woman, so that could be definitely interpreted as…classist? Anyhoo, broke-ass Elaine only works three days a week but if she worked full-time, she would use them. If they would take her. 

Elaine, saleswoman of the year, carries on pushing the notion of a sitter, telling Mary that the girls they recruit come from the best Ivy League schools and speak multiple languages. Sounds all-white – sorry – alright to me! Mary is sold.

Mary goes to the highly recommended – by Elaine – Huntsman Enterprises services and meets Angela (Ellen Humphreys), the owner of the business. Angela carries on the sales pitch, assuring Mary of the quality of her charges and their services. She offers to send over some potential candidates. Mary agrees. 

The next day, Mary interviews a slew of unsuitable candidates. If all of these girls are supposedly of high calibre, one shudders to think what the average nanny must be like. Mary contacts Tom to bemoan the quality of the interviewees. He thinks she might be being a little too picky but also, remembering that all of this shit is his fault, butters her up a bit, telling her she is the best mother and it would be impossible to replace her. 

Mary ends the call because she sees another girl arriving on a bicycle. Looking like a cross between a schoolgirl and bible student, with an above the knee A-line skirt, pop socks and pumps, Grace (Greer Grammer), sits reading as Mary prepares tea. Just a thought – did she prepare tea for every interviewee? That is a lot of tea! 

Mary and Grace bond over her love of books. Though Grace loves books, she has no idea who Mary is. Mary gets a call and excuses herself. Whilst she is on the phone, the children return from school. They are arguing. Grace pacifies them by telling them a story based on a drawing Sam has done. The drawing is kind of crappy. 

Mary ends her call and sends the children off to play as she concludes her meeting with Grace. Grace picks up another book and remarks about how she would borrow it if she saw it in a library. Mary says she thinks that she has another book that she would really like and takes her to another room.

Grace belatedly notices that Mary is quite an accomplished writer herself and is suitably overcome with the thought of being in the house of a famous author. Mary’s ego soothed by the recognition and fawning, immediately employs her, telling her she can start next week. Grace is giddy with happiness at being employed. Oh, to be young again…

The next week, Grace is looking after the children and some other random kid who I think is meant to be Elaine’s child but he looks Latin-American. Maybe he’s adopted? The kids want to go swimming and excitedly ask if they can. Grace says she will look after them. Mary tells Grace she can borrow one of her swimsuits. The pool, by the by, is in the back garden. Not so much going swimming as…swimming. 

By the pool, Elaine and Mary are cleaning…windows, yes, really, whilst Grace frolics in the pool with the children. Elaine notes the youthful Grace’s figure in the swimsuit. Mary, an attractive woman but in this harsh world, the wrong side of forty-five, dismisses Elaine’s comments. Tom returns from work and introduces himself to Grace, who is now smuggling peanuts in her swimsuit. 

Later, as Grace looks after the children, Tom takes advantage of her presence to grab a little naughty time with his spouse in the larder. Tom is a beast! 

As Grace puts the children to bed, Tom prepares dinner. He invites her to join them for dinner as she is leaving but Grace tells them that she thinks dinner is family time and leaves. 

The next day, Grace brings Mary tea – you would think this film was British with the amount of tea that gets served – she is still dressed like a naughty schoolgirl-cum-bible student. Mary turns her attention to writing. In the kitchen, Grace hears a crash and Mary screams out. She has broken a glass and cut her foot in the bathroom.

Grace takes care of her foot, putting a plaster on it. It is a supremely awkward watch. Mary, suffering from writer’s block after looking at a blank page for thirty seconds and slightly discombobulated by a glimpse of Grace’s raggedy bra, decides to take her shopping, because one would. They go shopping for bras. 

As Grace tries on different bras, Mary remarks on the perkiness of her breast and Grace espouses the fact that anyone would want bigger breasts. She places Mary’s hand on her breast. The store assistant pops her head into the changing room and disrupts the moment. Thank god! The two women return home with bags of clothing for Grace. Mary also tells her she can look at her old clothing. Very generous. 

After ogling Grace’s youthful body all day, Mary asks Tom if he thinks she should get plastic surgery. Tom, a man who has obviously played the Russian roulette of stupid questions that women ask, avoids the subject like a champ. The two begin to get amorous but are interrupted by the now ever-present Grace. 

It is the next day, Mary is still struggling with writer’s block. She lights a cigar and goes for a walk around her garden and pool area. She daydreams about Grace. Later in the day, she is having a meeting with suck up Kioki, Darlene the bitch and some other suit who remains nameless. They all have ideas about what direction the book should be heading in. Mary daydreams about Grace being provocative. 

The nameless suit guy yammers on about exploring darkness and taking the book in a new direction. Could they not have told the same shit to a ghostwriter? Mary meets up with Elaine at the gym. Elaine, who it turns out is her therapist, listens as she tells her about her feelings towards Grace. Elaine, possibly the world’s worst therapist, tells her to use her as her muse. 

Mary returns home and suggests to Tom they go out to dinner. The only problem is they did not book a sitter. Grace, of course, offers to stay late and look after the children. Tom and Mary go out. They meet up with Elaine and her partner, Rick (Cajardo Lindsey) at a charity dinner. Rick asks about the book. Mary tells him that she is having a hard time writing it.

He mentions that the fourth book in the series was his favourite, something Mary acknowledges is common amongst the readership. The only problem is she wrote it at a very dark time in her life and now her life is sunshine and roses. Rick, ignoring everything she has just told him, tells her she needs to lean into the darkness more. Everyone’s a writer and critic it seems…

Around the pool, Mary is writing and getting some sun. Ever the bringer of tea, Grace comes with a tray laden with the magical brew. Mary asks her to put some suncream on her back. Moments after Grace has put cream on her back – at her request – Mary jumps in the pool! How rude! Naked in the pool, Mary invites Grace to join her. 

After their tomfoolery by the pool, Mary takes them both into the house and gives the girl, who she has looking after her children, a drink whilst the two jump around to some pop-rock music. Mary falls asleep and awakens with dreams of Grace sucking her breast. 

Grace goes to a musical recital with the family. Mary takes her aside and tells her that they cannot repeat the antics of their day by the pool. Grace does not know what she is talking about. Mary takes her ignorance as understanding and says no more. Mary has a bath and another vivid dream. She imagines Grace pleasuring her in the bath. 

The next day, Mary is writing furiously, her writer’s block lifted. Grace and Tom keep the children occupied so as she can work. Tom takes the kids to school and Grace out for a bite to eat. Elaine sees him with Grace. At a diner, Grace surprises Tom with a different facet of her personality, mysterious and a little seductive. 

Back in the house, Mary is smoking a cigar. Grace dances in the car as Tom drives them back. Another day rolls around, Mary decides to take Grace out on a bike ride to celebrate completing her first draft. The two find a quiet spot by a lake and eat lunch. Mary reads poetry to Grace. Grace caresses her leg. 

The two kiss passionately but Mary stops them from going further. They return home and Elaine is with Tom waiting. She takes Mary aside and asks if their love life is okay. She does not trust Grace. Mary accuses Elaine of wanting Tom. A bit out of left field but okay…Elaine rightly tells her she is being ridiculous. 

Grace and Mary are in the kitchen together. Mary tells her that her wedding anniversary is coming up. Grace tries to seduce her. As she is about to succumb, they are interrupted by the rest of the family. Mary, lightheaded from Grace’s advances, takes to her bed. She wakes up some time late and makes her way down to the kitchen. 

She sees Tom and Grace enjoying a perverse sex game. Mary collapses. She wakes later and comes to find Tom preparing dinner. Grace joins them at the table. Mary asks Grace why she is there and tells them what she saw. Sam, the little twerp, says mommy is scaring him. Later, Mary has a meltdown, accusing Tom of destroying their lives. Tom apologises. I have no idea what they are going on about. 

Mary calls the agency to ask about payment. They tell her she never employed anybody. Grace is pottering about the house. Mary decides to find out more about Grace, finding out her full name by going to the library she uses. So she employed a woman without knowing her full name or anything else about her. Mother of the year right there. 

Mary goes to see Elaine. Elaine has been killed with a scissors in her neck. She is the only major black character and she dies! I mean….! Mary calls the police and is held as the prime suspect, all evidence pointing to her somehow. Fingerprints on the scissors, random woman filmed walking into the office building, her book notes…yeah, it’s flimsy and bollocks. 

Tom turns up with their lawyer. He gets her out but he wants to know where she disappeared to for three hours the night Elaine was killed. Mary is perplexed. She thinks she was gone for minutes – none of this is shown in the film by the way. Mary sneaks out of THE POLICE STATION and heads to an address she found somehow – the film is really falling apart now. 

Mary goes to an old house where Grace grew up. The woman in the house, aunty Lotty (Melissa Chambers), tells Mary about Grace’s dark past. Lotty has a split personality, speaking with two distinct voices. No idea why. Grace grew up in a large family with many siblings all of whom were treated horribly by their parents. 

Mary imagines how Grace, overhearing her and Elaine’s conversation at the gym, might have tricked her way into her life. Back at her house, Tom is taking a shower. Grace, dressed like a dominatrix, grabs a kitchen knife and confronts him in the bathroom. Tom tells her he does not want to play their sex games anymore and throws a flower pot at her. 

He misses and gets sliced across the stomach for his troubles, he tries to fight her off and suffers many more cuts for his efforts. Mary returns home and calls to him. Hearing Mary, Grace runs from the bathroom and changes faster than Christopher Reeves’ Superman back into her schoolgirl-cum-bible student get up. Mary finds Tom whining and apologising in a bloody heap in the shower.

Grace comes into the bathroom and starts clearing up the blood. Mary tells her to call 911 and asks what happened. Grace says she tried to stop her. Who? Grace turns into Margaret, a homicidal maniac. Grace tells Mary to run. Margaret pursues her. They fight in the kitchen. Grace talks to her alter-ego, Margaret, telling her she would never have survived without her. 

Mary hits her with a vase. A semi-conscious Grace cries. A year later, Mary is in a good place again with her family. She goes and visits Elaine’s grave and then onto see Grace in a mental institution. Grace is overjoyed to see her. A woman leaves the hospital, her identity disguised by a scarf and sunglasses. The end. 

Final thoughts: Deadly Illusions is confusing nonsense. Written and directed by Anna Elizabeth James, the film is even more wretched on a second viewing. With a runtime of nearly two hours, the film spends most of its runtime building to the highly underwhelming conclusion. 

The actors are fine, considering the material but I can only think they read a different script or filmed a different one and are as confused by the finished product as the rest of us. It as though the film was stuck between two ideas and could not commit to either. 

Davis’ Mary is apparently affected by her writing process but we never see it or even get enough exposition to explain how it might manifest. Grammer’s Grace came from a large family and was mistreated but so what? The split personality is seemingly explained in a piss poor scene, flashback, to her childhood, when her ‘Margaret’ persona saved her. 

There was no rhyme or reason given for Grace’s attachment to Mary or why she would pursue a job in childcare. Mulroney’s Tom succumbing to Grace’s youthful charms was a story as old as time and even though it made very little sense in the context of the story, it could easily be overlooked. 

Mary’s sudden lusting for the nubile Grace felt like bandwagon jumping, shoeing in a lesbian element just for the sake of modernity. Admittedly, their relationship in the film was closer than that of Tom and Grace but the sexual side, with both characters seemingly actively pursuing it, made no sense. 

The film did look good and was edited competently. Musically, it was just a standard foreboding soundtrack, the only break being for the rock-pop interludes that added nothing extra to the film. Deadly Illusions is an over thought out, underwhelming mess of a film and not worth nearly two hours of your time. Give it a miss.

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