By Zoe Talbot
[Warning: spoilers for “Deadly Illusions”]
Mary Morrison (Kristin Davis) is a bestselling author who gave up writing because she “turns into a different person when she writes.” When her husband Tom (Dermot Mulroney) makes some bad decisions that result in money problems, Mary is forced back into the writing world with the promise of two million dollars for another novel. With all of her time going toward her novel, she hires Grace (Greer Grammer) to take care of her twin children. As she continues to write, Morrison becomes less and less able to decipher between fiction and reality.
This movie had a lot going for it conceptually; a horror-fiction writer’s work becoming entangled with her reality is substantial material for a psychological thriller, especially when the author is unsure of what is real. However, the scenes are so bogged down by pointless eroticism and unnatural dialogue that it becomes impossible to enjoy sitting through it, even for a “steamy thriller.”
It took me almost seven hours on and off to get through this two hour film because I could not sit and watch the scenes straight through, mostly from boredom, because it takes an hour and a half for it to actually become a thriller.
The film’s beginning is full of sexy scenes between Mary and Tom, even before their time is freed while Grace watches the twins. I was confused, unsure of what was supposed to be established, and it continues when Grace is hired. The caretaker is emphasized to be an innocent and naive young girl, though Mary is warned by her friend Elaine (Shanola Hampton) that she might whisk Tom away with her youth and beauty as they watch her walk seductively out of a pool. At this point, audiences are left wondering what secrets Grace might be harboring and what Mary is going to do about it; what does any of this have to do with the type of person Mary becomes when she writes? When does any of that unfold?
The confusion heightens when Mary takes Grace bra shopping for no reason in particular. They share a moment, and Mary feels like she might start having feelings for Grace. After this, they share multiple sexy scenes that, when Mary asks about or emphasizes she cannot continue doing, Grace fails to remember at all (or at least is claiming to). Sometime after, Grace is seen having sex with Tom, but when confronted by Mary, Tom and Grace again seem to have no idea what she’s taking about. This is where the mystery begins. Why doesn’t Grace remember? Could this be the story Mary is writing? How much of this is genuine, and what is there to show for it?
In the last half hour, Elaine is shown after a gruesome murder, and Mary is the prime suspect. Apparently, someone left Elaine’s office that looks and was dressed exactly like Mary, her DNA was found on the murder weapon, and the murder scene is almost identical to the one in her unpublished novel. Even so, Mary insists she didn’t leave the house, but starts to believe that Grace could be dangerous. This whole section of the film is thrilling, but it took so long to get here, and it gets so confusing that I had such a hard time caring about what could possibly happen to anyone in this film.
After some sleuthing, Mary finds out Grace had a rough childhood, and the film cuts between Grace threatening Tom and Mary rushing home. It is revealed that Grace developed another personality, Margaret, to cope with her awful home life. At this point, I am unapologetically lost. I have no idea whether or not Margaret was with Mary the whole time, or Mary was imagining it because of the person she turns into when she writes. I feel like one of these plot lines could have existed, and succeeded, on their own. Including both made me feel unsatisfied and unsure of what happened, even for a thriller, and not in the ambiguous and clever “Donnie Darko” way.
This movie was so many things, and I’m not particularly convinced it did any of them well. It was full of tropes, predictability and was bogged down by its own writing and artistic decisions. Maybe the uneasy feeling it gave me the entire time was intentional, and maybe I’m just not the intended audience, but I would group this with any other film that bit off more than it could chew.