Movies

What Is Deadly Illusions, the Bizarre Netflix No. 1 “Erotic Thriller” About a Babysitter and a Horny Novelist?

A young woman whispers into the ear of Kristin Davis who you may remember as Charlotte from Sex and the City.
Hair full of secrets. Netflix

Netflix churns out so much content these days that you never seem to know what’s coming down the pike. But I’m fairly certain that, had I known in advance about Deadly Illusions—a movie that began streaming on the service last weekend and quickly shot to No. 1 on its most-watched list—I would have been pumped. The genre, erotic thriller, and the star, Kristin Davis (of Sex and the City fame), were all I needed to hear: Yes, sign me up, I’m there.

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Alas, given the bizarre collection of programs that wind up on the service’s public Top 10 list, I should have taken its runaway popularity as my first clue that this movie might not meet my expectations. Now that I’ve watched it, I can say with confidence that my hope that Deadly Illusions might actually be good was itself an illusion, though thankfully not a fatal one. I have been thoroughly disillusioned, but you needn’t be: Whether you want to watch it anyway to judge for yourself or you just want to know what these illusions are and why they’re so deadly—and why Netflix hordes can’t get enough—I’ve put together a brief guide to what the heck this movie is and some key things to know about it.

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What’s the basic plot?

Davis plays Mary, a mystery writer with a back catalog of successful books and no plans to write another one anytime soon. She’s too busy swanning around her mansion and being a doting mother and wife. But when it turns out her husband, Tom (Dermot Mulroney), lost a bunch of the family’s money in an extremely vague way that no one ever bothers to explain, Mary gives in to her publisher’s begging for a new book so she can cash in on the $2 million advance that will come with it. Now that Mary has to work, she needs some child care for her elementary school–age twins, so she engages a fancy nanny-matching service in her search for a babysitter, and she ends up hiring Grace, a 20-ish-year-old who seems perfectly angelic … or does she?

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That doesn’t sound so bad. Lifetime, in a good way.

I know, it really doesn’t, but there’s something so haphazard about how all of this is laid out that it really kneecaps the movie’s potential. There was the aforementioned nonexplanation of how exactly Tom lost all that money. There’s the way the deal with Mary’s publisher plays out: Two representatives show up to a meeting offering her big bucks to write a new book, and she acts completely indignant that they would have the nerve to ask such a thing. There are tons of ridiculous moments you’re expected to breeze right by. Most egregious might be the treatment of a character named Elaine, which sticks actress Shanola Hampton in a retrograde and thankless “Black best friend” role that the script makes zero effort to elevate. (Warning: Stop reading here if you don’t want a serious spoiler.) This role is so thankless that Elaine eventually gets wantonly murdered! Wanton as in there is zero motive for anyone to murder her. The movie is full of these sorts of bits of sloppy writing and never-explained oddities, plus a timeline that’s hard to follow and makes little sense.

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What’s the deal with the babysitter?

Grace, played by Greer Grammer (daughter of Kelsey, I must report), is the ideal wholesome, innocent babysitter at first, and the movie telegraphs this by dressing her like a child’s doll, with pleated miniskirts and ribbons in her hair. She’s creepy, but not in a fun way. She is initially hired to babysit for a week (which is not enough time to write a novel), but it seems like it’s only her third or so day of work when Mary tells Grace they’re playing hooky and takes her bra shopping. Before long, like maybe a couple days later, Grace is declaring babysitting for the family the most important thing that’s ever happened to her: “I’ve never felt more loved or more a part of something!” she announces. The movie could do a better job showing rather than telling here, but the point is that she’s obsessed.

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Bra shopping? So we must be getting into the “erotic” part of the erotic thriller now.

Yes, the bra-shopping scene is completely gratuitous—why would a woman every take her nanny to buy bras? Why would she go into the fitting room with her? Why would she physically help her put on the bras? (And who is watching the kids while they’re shopping when that is literally Grace’s job?) I mean, OK, a woman would do this if she had a crush on the babysitter, which Mary sort of does or is supposed to, as written, but Davis also can never quite shake the Charlotte York in this role. I was hoping she would go back to her vixen Melrose Place roots, but instead, you just kind of don’t believe she’s actually sexually interested in Grace or would ever go through with anything; I can just see Charlotte wriggling her nose at the thought of it. But then Grace has her own sexual agenda, too, seemingly—in that fitting-room scene, she has Davis help her put on a front-closure bra (something no one really needs help with, mind you) and later drags Davis’ hand to cup one of her breasts. But this is where the actual thriller/mystery of the movie kicks in, because it eventually emerges that you’re not supposed to be totally sure whether these scenes happen or are just in Mary’s head.

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Why would the sexy scenes only be in Mary’s head?

Because she’s a writer, and writing her novels brings her to a dark place. (Why does fantasizing about your babysitter have to be dark? Why couldn’t Mary just enjoy their makeout picnics and the time Grace digitally stimulates her in the bathtub rather than dwell on said incidents’ relationship to reality?) But this isn’t the only depiction of the novel-writing process that defies logic. For one thing, Mary seems to be writing the book by hand … on unlined paper. The only realistic part is how much time she wastes when she’s supposedly working on the book, often opting to moodily smoke a cigar instead.

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Kristin Davis smokes cigars in this movie?

Yes, lots of them, and it makes absolutely no sense for her character.

Is Dermot Mulroney involved in any of the sexual intrigue?

Yes, he is, though maybe it’s only in someone’s mind? Either way, we see him have sex standing up in a closet with Mary and later servicing Grace on a kitchen counter.

Is everything explained satisfyingly in the end?

No, not at all.

Wait, so what were the deadly illusions the title alludes to?

To be honest, I don’t know. No one except [redacted character mentioned earlier] died, so for the main characters, they were potentially deadly illusions at worst, these illusions. But what were the illusions? “Illusions” doesn’t seem like the best description of the mysteries at play in this movie. It’s a feat that this movie was able to choose such a generic title and for that title still not to make any sense. It’s like they picked it out of a hat—but at least picking things out of a hat sometimes really is an illusion.

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