“I knew I was in for a ride, a terribly made, poorly acted and badly written ride, and I was incredibly ecstatic…”
by Vanessa Agbulu
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, one of my favourite things to do to pass the time is to watch bad movies. It’s a welcome distraction from a world that’s crashing down in burning flames. Heck, I may die tomorrow, but at least I spent my last days watching Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. As a hypercritical person with a sarcastic sense of humour, tearing into horrible movies is my ultimate wet dream. I’ve watched so many bad movies this past year that it has become somewhat of a weekend ritual for me.
This weekend, I was looking for something to watch to continue this ritual, when I came across Deadly Illusions on Netflix. This psychological thriller centers around Mary Morrison, played by Sex and the City’s Kristin Davis, a happily married woman, mother of two kids and bestselling novelist. After retiring, she is approached by her former publishers to write another novel for them. To focus on writing, she hires a nanny for her kids, Grace, played by Kelsey Grammer’s daughter Greer Grammer. She then begins a scandalous affair with Grace, who appears innocent and infantile at first, but also harbours a dark side.
The movie starts off with a pan over an unnamed city with a video quality that’s reminiscent of a Lifetime original movie. We’re then taken to Mary’s house where her and her husband, Tom, played by Dermot Mulroney, are getting their kids ready for school.
At this point I paused the movie to prepare myself for what I was about to experience, because based on the start alone I knew what to expect. Once I saw the lifetime-eque quality and the appearance of Mulroney, one of Hollywood’s most forgettable faces and repeat offender in several bad movies I’ve watched, I knew I was in for a ride, a terribly made, poorly acted and badly written ride, and I was incredibly ecstatic.
I knew this movie would be awful, I knew it would be painful to watch and I knew it would make me question my life choices, but the thought of this filled me with immeasurable amounts of joy.
I was filled with the type of joy I imagine Simon Cowell feels when he watches a terrible singer in one of those talent shows and is about to rip them apart. I was ready to tear into any plot hole, laugh at the bad acting and cringe at the horrible writing. With a smile on my face and a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, I pressed play and continued watching.
After Mary drops her kids off at school, she has a meeting with employees from her now struggling publishing house. The publishers ask her to write another installment for her bestselling smut-filled crime series Delirium, but Mary declines their offer. Her husband, Tom, later finds out about their $2 million offer and insists that she take it, because he has lost half their savings in a failed business deal.
Mary is understandably upset about the news, but she doesn’t punch him in the face and this didn’t sit right with me. I’m not entirely sure what the husband does, but she seems to be making most of the income in their family. So he didn’t lose their money, he lost her money. And, if my husband told me that he lost half my money in a failed business attempt, he would have to pay me back every penny and I don’t care if he had to go hooking on the street. Maybe this is why I’m single.
The movie tries to make his actions appear less awful because beyond this mistake, Tom is otherwise a “good guy.” He seems like an attentive husband, well at least in the bedroom. I don’t know much about him outside this context because almost every time they’re together, they’re going at it. And when they um… fornicate, he makes sure his wife is orally pleased.
I guess being an attentive lover makes him a good person. He might have put his family’s financial future in jeopardy, but at least he gives good head, so he can’t be that bad, right?
Mary begrudgingly agrees to write another book for the series, but is worried about how writing affects her. She tells her best friend, Elaine, that she is concerned about her ability to take care of her kids because she becomes “a different person” when she writes. Elaine insists she get a nanny and tells her about an agency that hires high class nannies from ivy league schools, a suggestion Mary eventually accepts.
Through a sequence of painfully unfunny “comical” interviews, Mary tries to find her nanny. She interviews a devout Christian wanting to convert her children and a childcare worker who hates young kids. One of the things this film failed woefully at were the comedic moments, although there were only a few of them. I found myself laughing hysterically at the more serious scenes that were supposed to be dramatic and emotional, but didn’t even chuckle at the comical bits, like this one, which were poorly done and extremely forced.
Mary is upset about not finding anyone, but then Grace arrives. She’s a 20-something, Mary Poppins-like, doe-eyed, sweet and childlike girl with an almost constant and disturbingly happy demeanor. Mary instantly connects with her because she’s a young person that reads books, making her special apparently. She then hires Grace who’s the perfect nanny, taking care of her kids and home. Mary is now able to focus on writing while smoking an alarming number of Cuban cigars.
Mary quickly grows attracted to Grace, taking her lingerie shopping, and Grace seems to reciprocate this attraction. This is uncomfortable to watch because not only is Grace portrayed as an infantile and naive girl, but her connection with Mary tends to alternate between a mother-daughter dynamic and sexual attraction.
Take the lingerie shopping scene for example: it starts off with them having a fun day of shopping where Mary buys nice things for Grace, and ends with Mary grabbing Grace’s chest in the dressing room. Still, Mary’s attraction to Grace continues and she begins watching Grace in a voyeuristic manner, while having inappropriate fantasies about her, like the creepy pervert that she is.
And if you think I’m being way too harsh on her, I’m not. Mary admits that she knows Grace has a childlike naïveté, but states that she also has a sensual, seductive aura that draws you in. Like I said, Mary’s a pervert.
As the movie progresses, Mary starts to confuse her fantasies with reality, believing one of her sexual fantasies with Grace is real. This is the first time that it’s revealed to us that Mary sometimes confuses reality and fantasy. This is used as a tool throughout the movie to confuse the audience and have us questioning what’s real and what isn’t, but what confused me more was why I watched the movie in the first place.
The film continues with another event which may or may not have happened where Mary is taking a bath and Grace enters the room. Grace pours milk and rose petals into her bath, then dips her hands in the water and proceeds to strum Mary’s guitar.
But when Mary opens her eyes to look around, she finds that there’s no Grace present, yet she is covered in milk and rose petals. So, did it really happen? Was Grace really there? Will Mary get a yeast infection from the milk bath? These were questions that bedeviled me after watching this scene.
As this nearly 2-hour long soporific thriller progresses, we learn that Mary’s husband, Tom, also likes Grace, probably because of her aforementioned aura. Mary’s friend, Elaine, suspects an affair between them. Tom falls for Grace’s dazzling personality of stale bread and eventually, the duo end up sleeping together.
Grace’s lackluster personality is reminiscent of Bella Swan from the Twilight movies. Just like Bella, she’s boring, completely unremarkable, and very forgettable. I don’t know whether to credit her dull personality to poor acting on Greer Grammer’s part, a poorly written script, or both. But with Grammer’s past esteemed roles including a guest spot in iCarly and MTV’s Awkward, I’m inclined to believe bad acting had a major part to play in how terribly the character was portrayed.
While having an affair with Tom, Grace continues her relationship with Mary. One day, Mary takes her on a date by a lake where she tells Grace that she sees so much of herself in her. This declaration left me thinking that her inexplicable fondness for Grace was due to her attraction to herself. This again left me with several important questions like: Did she want to sleep with herself? Was it incest if she slept with herself? Self-cest maybe?
After their interaction by the lake, Mary finds that someone slashed the tires of her bicycle, so her and Grace walk back home. At the house, Mary finds Elaine confronting Tom, and Elaine tells Mary about her suspicions, prompting a fight between friends. These events come back to play important and confusing roles towards the end of the movie.
The theme of melding fantasy and reality continues as Mary sees Tom giving Grace a microphone check on her pum pum, but in reality, this event never happened. Later, Mary confronts Grace and her husband about it while her children are sitting right next to her. On top of being a pervert, I guess she’s also mother of the year. But Mary then regains her composure and apologizes to her kids, blaming the stress of writing on her strange behaviour.
This scene hands down is one of the times in the movie where the acting was its worst. Don’t get me wrong, the entire movie is filled with stale, lifeless and at many times overly dramatic acting. But here Kristin Davis manages to deliver the calibre of acting you can only find in a low-budget, straight-to-TV movie. The audience is supposed to feel her anxiety, fear and all these strong emotions, but all you feel is an urge to burst out laughing.
The film advances with a twist because it wouldn’t be a Netflix original movie without an unnecessary twist. Mary calls the nanny agency because they hadn’t cashed her cheque and they inform her they hadn’t done so because she didn’t use any of their nannies. It turns out Grace is not an employee of the nanny company (*gasp*). So who is Grace? And how did she come to work for Mary?
In a very convoluted story that I had a hard time keeping up with, Grace found out about the agency when Elaine and Mary were talking about it earlier and she applied for a job with them but didn’t get it. While in their office, Grace rifled through customer files that were left unattended and found Mary’s information. She then showed up at Mary’s house and Mary’s dumbass hired Grace without checking with the company. In an incredibly unbelievable twist after twist, this complete stranger found her way into working for Mary and her family.
After this discovery, Mary finds Elaine in her office murdered with Mary’s scissors and becomes the prime suspect due to their previous argument. The incredibly clever police officers have strong evidence against Mary, like her fingerprints on her own pair of scissors, footage of a woman who vaguely resembled her walking into the office the night of the murder and her fingerprints on the knife that slashed her bicycle tires. Somehow, these pieces of unrelated, nonsensical and easily dismissible evidence solidified her as a killer in the eyes of the police.
It’s revealed that Elaine was a psychotherapist, a fact that was told to us way too late into the movie, and she was treating her friend Mary. Mary often had dissociative or out-of-body experiences where she did things that she had no knowledge of later on, hence why she conflated fantasy with reality. We then learn that she may have killed her friend and also slashed her bicycle tire in her dissociative state.
But wait, there’s more! Mary didn’t actually do any of this, Grace did! After talking to Grace’s aunt, Mary finds out that Grace has a split personality, aka Dissociative Identity Disorder, the same diagnosis as Mary. And with no evidence whatsoever, she jumps to the conclusion that Grace killed Elaine.
After she learns this, Mary races to save her family from Grace, while Grace attempts to murder her husband. When Mary arrives, Grace reverts to her innocent self but quickly changes back to her evil personality, Margaret, who has the raspy voice of a geriatric smoker one cigarette away from lung cancer mixed with that one lady from Spongebob who hates chocolate. The voice change was confusing, but it made for one of the funniest unintentionally comical scenes in the whole movie.
Grace/Margaret then gives an evil monologue and alludes to sexual assault as the cause of her split personality. A fight ensues between the two women, Mary hits Grace over the head and she falls, but then Mary holds Grace in a maternal and nurturing manner. This again turns up the gross factor when you remember that Mary has been fantasizing about sleeping with her the entire movie.
Beyond the creepy relationship between Grace and Mary, I don’t know if I appreciate the use of mental illness as a way to explain “crazy behaviour.” Usually the vast amount of people living with mental illnesses are not a danger to themselves or others, but if you let Hollywood tell it, they are stalkers, killers and just overall terrible people. I’m not saying that mental illnesses should be completely taken out of movies, but I do wish there were more positive and accurate portrayals of people living with them in film.
In the end of the movie, everyone turns out fine, except Elaine, she’s still dead. And Mary takes the manuscript she wrote and leaves it at her grave site, an action that confused me because dead people can’t read. Afterwards, Mary visits Grace who ends up in a psych ward where she somehow reverts into an even more infantile personality. Mary then exits the hospital wearing a similar outfit to the woman that was seen in the footage walking into the office when Elaine died, alluding to the fact that Mary did indeed kill Elaine.
I was very confused by this, a common theme you’ve probably noticed throughout this review. I asked myself: Why did she kill her? How did she kill her? And, when did she kill her? But ultimately, do I really care about any of this? And when the realization dawned on me that I didn’t care, I left the movie having learnt nothing, with more questions than answers.
Actually, forget what I said, I did learn something from this movie.
This film and the others I’ve watched have taught me that literally anybody can make a movie.
Do you think the movie you wrote freshman year of film school about a talking psychic baby is dumb?
Or feel that your movie about sentient pigeons taking over the world makes no sense?
Use this movie as a testament that if you believe hard enough in yourself, you too can get a budget to make your movie. So write that screenplay and sell it, preferably to Netflix because it’s evident that they would make anything that falls into their laps.
Deadly Illusions is streaming on Netflix