Mary Morrison (Kristin Davis) is a successful writer of thriller stories. Her novels are well-received and appreciated by all. People compliment her skill and style of producing unexpected twists in her books. While watching Deadly Illusions, I wished that Mary could have spared some time to also write the script of this movie. Because Anna Elizabeth James, the writer and director of Deadly Illusions, manages to achieve that “unexpected twist” without any skill or style.
While still reaping benefits from her earlier novels, when Mary is asked to write a sequel to her previous bestselling book, she refuses the offer. Reasons: (1) she has children to take care of, (2) she thinks the last book had a satisfying ending, and (3) writing, for her, is a process that takes her to a dark place. In other words, it “changes” her. In a world where sequels are inevitable, let’s delete the (2) option. So Mary has to go through (1) and (3). The solution to the first option threatens to wreck Mary’s life and sinks Deadly Illusions.
To commit herself to write, Mary takes the advice of a friend and hires a babysitter. The babysitter is a decorous girl named Grace (Greer Grammer). She is obedient, well-mannered, and reads books whenever she can. None of these qualities will remain or be consistent throughout the film, starting with the book-reading aspect. What this makes clear as crystal is that the people will be bent according to the requirements of the screenplay. These dimensionless beings are stripped off their humanity and reduced to puppets acting on the motivation, “Umm, it’s written in the script.”
Not even a single character in Deadly Illusions acts or thinks like a human being (or such scenes seem to be truncated). When Grace first meets Mary’s kids, they argue over something. She asks why, but we never hear the reason for it. Instead, we cut to them being all sociable and couthy. This was supposed to be a kind of test to see how well Grace could handle the commotion caused by the little ones. But it turns into a rushed development so that Mary could hire Grace quickly. The children don’t quarrel again. Grace’s job gets easier, thanks to the screenplay. There are two points where we sense that Mary’s husband Tom (Dermot Mulroney) has something to say about the goodness of Grace. In both the scenes, Grace interrupts the couple in the middle of their loving moment and reminds them how good at her job she is: “They’re in their room, playing, ready for bed,” “The kids are in bed, asleep.” A thought runs through Tom’s mind but never reaches his lips and the screen. To accommodate room for a sex scene, Tom discloses a financial problem after making out with Mary. Tom seems to have figured out his priorities.
The only time you feel that you are watching a human being is when Mary looks at Grace thoughtfully. The only time an actor embodied their character is when Grace’s shyness is reflected in her jump inside the pool. Otherwise, the background music is assigned the task to emote in place of the actors. Mary is drawn towards Grace because her instincts drive her to don the role of a saviour. She wants to “save” Grace by upgrading her (a new bra is bought, some clothes are given to her). Grace meekly submits herself to Mary. The last time I saw an overly committed domestic help, it was Balram in The White Tiger. If you have seen the film, you know what happens there. Since Deadly Illusions has a nanny along with a married couple, it turns Grace into an immoral seductress. But there was some fun in the tease behind this idea. For a long time, it is left unclear whether Grace is actually a seductress or it is Mary dreaming and making up this fantasy. But Deadly Illusions does not have the capability to become a clever psychological thriller. Anna Elizabeth James wants to reach for that “unexpected twist,” which frankly lands more as a disappointment and looks stupid.
If horror movies have taught us to not book a cabin at a remote location and Bollywood has insisted that a boy and a girl can never be friends, then movies like Deadly Illusions convey that a babysitter is always more than a babysitter. Expect a lot of seduction and other troubles around your spouse if you decide to hire the services of a young nanny.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.