Happily married Mary and Tom Morrison decide to hire a nanny to help manage household chores as Mary (Kristen Davis) tries to overcome writer's block and finish her novel. With the too-good-to-be-true young and innocent Grace (Greer Grammer) effortlessly taking care of the two kids, Mary gladly focuses on her professional calling.
Another run-of-the-mill trope, one might say. But there is more to Deadly Illusions than the simple premise. And it’s not just the usual employee-employer boundaries that we are talking of here.
Sparks soon fly between the nanny and… wait for it, Mary; not her husband Tom. At one point, Mary is even confused about whether she’s the one being seduced, or the one seducing. This is a question we have too.
For example, why is Mary taking Grace along for lingerie shopping? Why is she so handsy with the nanny? More importantly, why is Grace against having boundaries? While writer-director Anna Elizabeth James throws it all at the audience at suitable intervals, these seem to happen for no rhyme or reason.
Meanwhile, Mary’s husband, Tom, is shown to get physically intimate with both women. Ironically, once the erotic utility of the scene has been milked, we are told that it is all a hallucination. Soon after, there is a random twist about Grace’s past.
Miss Goody Two Shoes may actually be an absolute psycho. In a way of explanation, there is a murder and later, an attempt at another murder to steady the plot. Here too the lines between reality and imagination get blurred. How real are the events? Is everything in Mary’s head? The only clarity we get in this film is that it is constantly attempting to be an erotic thriller.
To be fair, every time the film focuses on the erotica - given that it’s shot with a female gaze - it seems to come alive. Typically, in thrillers that have a nanny coming into a family, we are trained to expect the man of the house getting involved.
However, it’s enjoyable that this trope is subverted by James. It is Mary who makes the first move towards Grace. It is Mary, in fact, who believes that the employer-employee boundaries are just imaginary rules. But this film, of course, is not above satiating any assumptions we may have about Tom. It is such choices that end up making the narrative feel confusing.
Ultimately, it’s all this confusion that brings down the film. Did the sex scenes really happen? Does Grace even exist? You never truly know. When the credits finally roll, you are left with a head-scratcher concerning quite a few such questions.