A writer wants to end her writer’s block – but her new nanny only brings more trouble into the house. Whether the Netflix film DEADLY ILLUSIONS We reveal what happens to this idea in our review.
OT: Deadly Illusions (USA 2021)
Best-selling author Mary (Kristin Davis) suffers from writer’s block, even though her publisher finally wants a new novel from her. In order to have more time for writing, she quickly hires an innocent young woman named Grace (Greer Grammer) to look after the twin children of Mary and her loving husband Tom (Dermot Mulroney). As the writer devotes herself to her new bestseller, the line between the life she writes and the one she lives quickly becomes blurred. So much so that Mary’s best friend Elaine (Shanola Hampton) is very worried about the couple’s well-being…
“Deadly Illusions” is a stylistic throwback to the 1990s: The thriller with “Sex and the City” star Kristin Davis is made from the same material as the erotic-tinged thrillers “The Hand on the Cradle,” “Basic Instinct,” “Sliver”, “Color of Night” and Co. – it belongs to a subgenre that briefly achieved solid to good box office results, but only very rarely won the favor of film critics. The downfall of these cool erotic thrillers, which always lead to some kind of twist, may have several reasons: The market quickly became oversaturated with a large number of similar films, so that this genre of film lost its traction. In addition, the increasing spread of cable channels provided other ways to tell suspense stories with bare skin: why make an expensive film and shyly dance around for an NC-17 rating when cheap cable films and prestigious cable series can also be produced for the same audience – in some cases with greater freedom? And finally the question can be asked: What argument do films that were able to generate hype in the 1990s with “You can see an actress’ bare crotch flashing!” still have on their side in the age of Internet pornography? Viewers who once rode the 90s erotic thriller wave solely because of the naked bodies now have completely different sources to satisfy their viewing desires. But it is precisely against this background that a return to this genre realm that developed in the 2020s is certainly appealing: apart from pure nostalgia, what do you have to offer as a filmmaker in this playing field? Director and writer Anna Elizabeth James (“Haven’s Point”) gives an initially attractive answer with “Deadly Illusions”, only to destroy all goodwill in the last third of the film.
Writer’s block doesn’t stop even the most talented authors (Kristin Davis).
“Deadly Illusions” opens with a good sense of what the audience can expect: The action takes place in a spacious, brilliantly polished property that exudes major 90s erotic thriller vibes with its many reflecting surfaces of glass, smooth shimmering stone and steel . James and her cameraman Mike McMillin (“Shared Rooms”) also rely on lighting that is somewhat flat but still flatters the cast, reminiscent of “We are not an erotica magazine, but a lifestyle magazine, oh, and here is the photo series with a star lounging around in her underwear cooking breakfast” photo shoots remembers how they were used for a short period of time to (re)start careers. James enriches this imagery with a sense of restraint: she stages sensual scenes such as a relaxing bath, the after-work shower, or marital sex secretly carried out in the next room at a social dinner with an emphasis on what you do not sees. Some will call it one of the so-called Male gauze liberated answer to the 90s erotic thrillers, others call it a calculated emulation of the genre for today’s age – if you just want to stream naked bodies in motion today, you probably won’t go to Netflix. The truth is probably a combination of both theses, but what is decisive is the result: “Deadly Illusions” takes the guise of a film genre that often didn’t know whether it wanted to be gallant or clumsy, and strips away the clumsier erotic passages, which is what even makes sense on a content level.
“James enriches the imagery with a sense of restraint: she stages sensual scenes such as a relaxing bath, the after-work shower, or marital sex secretly carried out in the next room at a dinner party with an emphasis on what you do not sees.”
For a long time, the driving force of “Deadly Illusions” has been the fact that Mary can be a good author or a woman with a fulfilling married life. But not both. In order to get into the flow of writing, she has to take a step back from her husband and children and let her thoughts wander – knowing that she can overdo it. The fact that the crackle in “Deadly Illusions” consists, among other things, of Mary looking after her buttoned-up nanny, or of her giving him fiery looks during a swim, but cutting away from James before concrete things happen or bare facts can be seen, fits Mary’s Characterization. And it reinforces that uncertain “Is something happening?” feeling on which the suspense of the film is based. James knows – first of all – how to assess the expectations of the audience in terms of narrative: Anyone who starts a film on Netflix that is described as “sensual”, “exciting” and “psychological thriller” will inevitably be puzzled from the start about what the plot twist is at the end should be. “Deadly Illusions” plays cheekily with this expectation, with dialogues often anticipating what is certainly happening in the audience’s heads. When Greer Grammer arrives as the new nanny with an unreal narrow-mindedness and friendliness, the comment “She can’t be real!” soon follows, which inevitably casts doubt on the theory “It’s all just my imagination! Hence the film title! Because the film wouldn’t end so stupidly… right? And before you can think, “This will inevitably result in the new girl in the house becoming a marriage destroyer…”, it is Mary who envies the shy Grace’s firm breasts and asks her friend Elaine to assess what she thinks of it , suddenly having same-sex fantasies in the second half of life.
Things are slowly looking up again for Mary…
This creates a confusing tug-of-war as to who is corrupting whom, because Mary seems to lure Grace out of her comfort zone, but Grace seems to follow up on hints of quick action – and above all this hovers the aforementioned ambiguity as to how much of this is Mary’s wishful thinking, Mary’s Writing mode mania, and how much of it is real. This reduces the tension effect if you are looking for a character to root for (after all, it remains unclear for a long time who we should see as a figure of identification here), but increases the tension for those who are more captivated on a conceptual level (“What is it ultimately about? ?”). Despite the impressive chemistry between Davis and Grammer, which allows for constantly changing balances of power, this cannot support a complete film. The dialogues, which are becoming increasingly striking and awkward, are problem enough, but above all: at some point the thriller, which is set to distorted children’s melodies like “Brother Jakob” by Drum & Lace, has to provide answers. And in “Deadly Illusions” they are extremely stupid. The film completely derails to abandon all of the thematic and character ideas previously touched on. Instead, lurid thriller clichés implemented with excessive overacting take over the stage, triggering a storm of logic gaps and hair-raising developments. And since the resolution has almost nothing to do with the entire set-up, the beginning and middle of the thriller also collapse in retrospect.
“The film completely derails to abandon all of the thematic and character ideas previously raised. Instead, lurid thriller clichés implemented with excessive overacting take over the stage, triggering a storm of gaps in logic and hair-raising developments.”
Conclusion: A shame! With their chemistry together, Kristin Davis and Greer Grammer deserved a film that made something out of it instead of ultimately bathing in pathetic clichés.
“Deadly Illusions” is now available to stream on Netflix.