Deadly Illusions

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Paul Asay

Movie Review

Mary Morrison’s life is perfect.

Oh, it’s true that once, long ago, she had to work for a living—writing trashy, salacious suspense novels (that, in all probability, Netflix bought the rights to).

But now, those trashy novels work for her. People keep buying them. The royalty checks keep rolling in. And unlike the characters in her books, Mary’s life is marvelously free of scandalous affairs, lethal corkscrews and evil twins. All she does these days is lounge about her perfectly modern mansion and have sex with her perfect husband and be a perfect mom to her two perfect kids.

However, one night after a perfect dinner and perfect roll in the hay, husband Tom tells Mary that he made a perfectly dreadful decision: He invested half of the family’s considerable reserves in a bad company (we can only assume it had the market cornered on eight-track tapes). So while they’re not exactly poor, Mary might have to, y’know, write another book to right the ship. And then their lives will be perfectly perfect once again.

But what will Mary do with her two children while she’s writing? After all, they’re too old to keep in a playpen all day and too young to ship off to college. They might require attention while she’s writing—a trip to school, perhaps, or a quick tutorial regarding basic subtraction. Why, the girl might even want her hair braided. And that won’t do. It won’t do at all.

The solution? It’s obvious, of course. While Mary is loathe to allow someone else to care for her children—“I can’t picture anyone taking as good a care of them as me,” she says modestly—she has no choice but to look for a nanny.

Naturally, she throws herself into the search with typical Mary Morrison gusto. She signs on with a nanny service that only hires girls attending Ivy-League schools and know at least two languages. She inspects their facilities, thrilled to know that she can drop her children off for the weekend if the need arises. (Or a week. Or perhaps until the kids are through their difficult teen years.) And she interviews just about every nanny the service offers, looking for just the right fit.

But none of the girls fit quite right. Not until Grace walks in.

She’s a pretty young thing with a book in hand and a suitably nervous expression. And when she learns that Mary’s a writer, Grace lights up as if Beyonce just asked her to be besties. Mary likes her immediately. Oh, and the kids seem to like her, too.

Grace, Mary realizes, is practically perfect: Perfect skill set, perfect subservient attitude, perfect hair, perfect skin … perfect.

Perhaps, as Mary eyes the woman’s short skirt, a little too perfect.

Positive Elements

Mary smiles a lot, and it’s nice when people smile. She’s sad when a friend dies, which seems an appropriate reaction to a friend dying. She also seems to care for her kids, and she loves being a mother. Her husband loves her, too. At least most of the time.  

Spiritual Elements

One of the nannies whom Mary interviews is “so excited to share the word of God with your little lambs.” (She’s apparently disqualified because of the outburst.) Grace is called a “goddess” in a swimsuit. Mary’s children seem to attend a private religious school, though any moral guidance seems not to have reached their parents.

Sexual Content

Grace is attractive. But it’s Mary, not Tom, who feels that tug of attraction first. Mary confesses to her friend Elaine that she’s having sexual fantasies about Grace, and she suspects that Grace would do just about anything if Mary asked her to.

Turns out, Grace’ll do plenty that Mary doesn’t ask her to (but secretly wants) as well. But when Mary’s into writing, her hold on reality suffers, and many of her interactions with Grace could either be real or simply hyper-realistic imaginings.

That includes the most lewd moment between the two, when Mary soaks in a bathtub. Grace walks in, pours milk, salt and flower petals into the tub, dribbles honey into Mary’s mouth and then reaches into the water to manually stimulate her. (We see one of Mary’s breasts above the water, and watch her clench the side of the bathtub as she nears completion.) It’s implied that Grace nibbles on Mary’s breasts as she lies on a couch.

We don’t see Mary’s breasts in that second scene, but we do see most of them elsewhere, including when a topless Mary (lying on her stomach while sunbathing) asks Grace to rub lotion on her back (which she does, rather erotically). Mary then jumps into the pool and strips off her bottoms, too, and invites Grace to join her. (Grace does, but puts on Mary’s discarded swimsuit before diving in.) The two kiss erotically elsewhere, and Grace spends time stroking Mary’s face and hair and thighs, and she steers Mary’s hand toward her breast in a dressing room. Grace compliments Mary on her body and, at times, tells Mary how much she loves her—though in context, it can be difficult to say whether she means it as a friend or a mother figure or a lover.

For all of her interaction with Mary, Grace has designs on Tom, Mary’s husband, too. When she first meets Tom, she’s in another one of Mary’s swimsuits that reveals a great deal both around and under the fabric. She goes out to lunch with Tom and provocatively exposes her midsection to him. And in one scene (played as perhaps Mary’s imagination), she takes the role of dominatrix: She wears a very revealing outfit and seems to be encouraging Tom to perform oral sex on her.

Tom and Mary frequently have sex as well (often oral sex), and Mary brags to Elaine how good he is in bed. He showers in front of the camera, and his backside is exposed for several seconds. Grace wears another S&M-themed outfit elsewhere, and both she and Mary are often shown in lingerie and underwear. Grace’s swimsuits and underwear often reveal a good deal of her backside. And even when she’s fully clothed, her skirts can be very short and rather revealing.

[Spoiler warning] Grace was raised in an abusive home, one in which her mother and father allegedly starved their many children, chained them to their beds and (Grace’s aunt insinuates) might’ve sexually abused them. In a flashback, we see a teen boy (likely Grace’s brother) bribe Grace into becoming an alter-ego that, in Grace’s adult life, manifests as an S&M-loving dominatrix.

Violent Content

A woman is stabbed in the neck with a pair of scissors. We see the shears still lodged in the body, and a significant amount of blood pooled on the floor. Someone is sliced several times across the midsection, leading to many grotesque wounds and a significant outpouring of blood.

Two women fight, and one has part of her scalp ripped off by a blender. (We see the hair and skin pulled into the appliance and the bloody wound left behind.) A person gets beaned in the head with a flower vase.

Mary cuts her foot badly on some glass, and Grace picks out a large shard. Tires are slashed. Threats are made. There’s a suggestion that someone else might’ve died off camera.

Crude or Profane Language

Four f-words, one c-word and a spattering of other profanities, including “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused five times, and Jesus’ name is abused twice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Mary smokes cigars. Both Tom and Grace take a puff or two from them as well.

Grace and Tom seem to always drink wine with dinner. Mary pours out a couple of whiskeys for she and Grace as part of a celebration, then asks Grace if she’s old enough to drink. (Grace says she is.)

Other Negative Elements

Grace is not quite as perfect as she might seem to Mary. She lies and cheats and steals and misleads and frames other people for her misdeeds, though perhaps it’s not entirely her fault.  

Conclusion

“Lean into the dark,” someone advises Mary as she begins to write her book. “That’s where your best stuff is.”

Maybe that’s true for Mary (though I doubt it). But it’s certainly not true of this movie.

Deadly Illusions is the sort of film that gives the phrase guilty pleasure a bad name. In fact, it’s the sort of film that gives the phrase dumpster fire a bad name, too. This popular Netflix offering doubles as a brain-cell assassin, snuffing out IQ points of its unsuspecting viewers by the score.

I had thought that Zack Snyder’s four-hour cut of Justice League would be the longest movie I’d sit through in 2021. Though Deadly Illusions is just half as long, it felt like it lasted four times that. (In some ways, it feels entirely appropriate that it was released just as the COVID pandemic was winding down; watching it somewhat approximates the pandemic’s length and misery.)

This is indeed a dark movie, what with its sex and violence and murder. But more than that, it’s an inescapably trashy movie, with no greater goal than to shock and titillate and further define the word salacious. The characters here take an alarming number of showers and baths, but I’m the one who felt the need for a good cleaning afterward.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.