A look at the film ‘Deadly Illusions’ directed by Anna Elizabeth James.
It seems we are always chasing the next experience; a thrill, an adrenaline rush, a feeling. Something that reminds us we’re still alive and to give us an endorphin kick to keep us buzzing until we find our next fix.
This is why people do dangerous things like bungee jumps, gravity-defying rollercoasters or driving a Fiat Punto; not knowing if you’ll still be alive or uninjured after doing so makes you feel like you’re pushing the envelope and keeps you feeling young.
Perhaps this is why I feel old. While other people are being vibrant and colourful, so it seems my life is turning into several shades of beige. It’s not even like I can live vicariously through my friends and family as we’re still meant to be under Covid lockdown conditions.
Like so many others who are awaiting their freedom to get back out into the world, I am getting my fix from electronic entertainment. My poor PC has done some considerable gaming mileage over the last few months and Netflix has been spanked raw for whatever it can give me.
When I saw a new thriller-movie climbing the ranks on the ‘Most Popular’ section, I decided to give it a go. It’s always an unknown, since we all know that popularity doesn’t guarantee quality. The Spice Girls are great proof of that. But every so often, something becomes popular for the right reasons, and it was possible that ‘Deadly Illusions’ might have been one of them.
Let me save you some time… It isn’t.
There. You can stop reading now if you want, but if you want to know why it isn’t, please keep reading.
Netflix have a bit of a reputation for creating extraordinary television series’ and documentaries. Their ability to produce episodic or informative content is truly remarkable and I hope they continue to do so for a long time to come. On the flip-side, their films show polish and clearly have the funding to be whatever they want to be, but almost constantly fall short of what one can consider a ‘complete’ film.
Think back to the days before Netflix. The big film studios like Universal, Paramount and MGM were funding features that they needed to show in theatres and make lots of money. We got countless great films. ‘Fight Club’, ‘Jaws’, ‘Silence of the Lambs’… The list of true-greats is endless. And you know it’s a legendary title when you can imagine sitting in a darkened theatre, the huge screen in front of you, that noisy dude with a bottomless packet of crisps in a crinkly packet directly next to you and some dickhead kicking the back of your seat directly behind you. But when the film is on, nothing else matters because it has you transfixed.
Well, I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to the Netflix films, you just can’t really picture yourself going to a theatre to watch it. Even the big flat-panel in the living-room seems like overkill for some of them. They just lack a je-ne-sais-quoi, and one can reach the end credits without ever really feeling satisfied. I’m looking at you ‘Bird Box’!
But they’ll figure it out one day. It might be in a year, or ten years. Or they could have cracked it in time for the one you’re about to watch. Sadly, they hadn’t made this breakthrough in time for ‘Deadly Illusions’.
It starts off quite predictably. It sets up the family at the core of the story quite predictably. It introduces a minor interruption to the family quite predictably which then leads to a rather predictable need for a childminder who even more predictably arrives under slightly mysterious/unexpected circumstances and in a predictably predictable way, gets the job and then turns out to be not quite what everyone inside the film was expecting, despite all of us outside the film had predicted things with a startling level of accuracy.
The only thing that kept me guessing, until I didn’t have to because the film rammed it down my throat with the elegance of a gastroscopy being administered using a V8 Ford Mustang, was the reason for the childminder being a bit loopy.
‘Room’ drew inspiration from a number of kidnap cases that had come to light but seemed to have a lot of faint calls back to the now infamous Fritzl case. ‘Room’ was a touching, haunting and tragic telling of the struggles that a mother and her child went through as they survived their horror and then tried to reintegrate into a world afterward.
‘Illusions’ isn’t like that. Instead, it points vividly at a single, relatively recent, discovery that made international news. It even goes as far as re-staging the sort of photos that we saw coming from the real incident in such a way that it feels like a dirty, seedy rip-off. Using the suffering of the poor children who had been abused for so long as a motive for your antagonist made me feel very uncomfortable.
While ‘Room’, as I’ve already said, had faint calls to the Fritzl case, there were no direct correlations. Nor does it match any other kidnap/imprisonment/rape scenario exactly. This is what makes it the dark but engaging film it is. It does not try to impress on you that anything is how you should think or feel about any specific incident of its type.
‘Illusions’ recreated photos leave no room for manoeuvre in your imagination. You go straight to the one place you can go and then you’re left wondering if the writer knows something about the victims that we don’t. In reality, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t. But it’s in poor taste and could have been done much more sensitively for a lot less effort than was put into this.
I now invite you to remember the words, “is predictable and not particularly noteworthy.” Now, apply these words after each of the following statements: –
There. That wraps that up in a nice succinct manner. Nothing amazing, nothing truly diabolical. Everything just right down the middle in that ‘safe-zone’ between utter tripe and box-office blockbuster.
I think what sets this film aside to garner it the rather dismal IMDB score (at time of writing) of 3.6 after nearly six-thousand reviews in only a week since it was released, is the script and the acting.
The script actually falls well below the safe-zone middle ground, being a bit of a rip-off of anything that has come before it. Being a ‘dangerous nanny’ film, of course I’m going to draw parallels with nineties cheese-fest, but still a half-decent thriller in its own right, ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’.
‘Cradle’ had a real villain. One with motives and malice and the savvy to manipulate her targets. In ‘Illusions’, we have an uncertain, inconsistent fruitcake who doesn’t even know who or what she is and still remains a bit unsure even after the film briefly exposits her past.
‘Cradle’ had a family that we cared about because they behaved like a nice respectable household who loved each other. ‘Illusions’ gives us kids who remain on the periphery of everything and barely even feature in the parents lives, a husband who is flaky and secretive (but quite horny) and a wife who is flaky, unstable, confused and also horny. We don’t want to invest in people with no depth.
The psychosis of the wife who is a struggling writer, isn’t totally out-there. Whenever I write long-form, I tend to invest a great portion of myself into my characters and it does actually change me a little. I don’t go full nut-case, but I can become a bit reclusive, moody and difficult. It is actually one of the reasons why I haven’t written a proper book-length story for a while; I like the stability of my mental-self when I don’t have half-a-dozen characters I need to share it with for a few months.
The madness of the mother in ‘Illusions’ feels like it’s something that will play a big part in the story when they start setting it up. But it quickly takes a back seat as your predictions start to formulate. And as each prediction you make ultimately comes true, so the little devices that the film tried to set up earlier just become flimsy, artificial facades that are never given the chance to be anything more than “a few extra minutes of screen time to pad this shit out”.
And where the script is weak and leaves little room for the actors to shine, so the actors aren’t really giving it their all. There’s one scene in particular, the mother arrives home to find her husband bleeding all over the floor from being slashed with a knife and her reaction couldn’t have been less sincere had she said, “oh, golly-gosh, what a pullava.”
I expect all the budget went into camera equipment, sets and post-production. Because the film certainly meets expectations in these areas. But the actors turn in the kind of performances you’d expect if they agreed to a standard salary of $2500 and a one free sandwich from the cafeteria per-person per-day for the duration of the shoot.
Forget the fact that the script leaves the characters looking shallow, the performances make them seem even shallower. Somehow, a shallow concave surface actually inverts into a convex hump that is distracting and awkward.
This is an easily missable little film that nobody will bother to remember come six-months time. It will be the skid-mark on the CV of all that were involved in it but that’s for the film industry to worry about. For the viewing audience, it’s as inconsequential as a passing pedestrian in a busy high street; they were there for a moment, but then gone as quickly and you’ll never remember their face.
‘Cradle’ may be far from being a perfect film, but it shines bright compared to this nonsense. With an IMDB score of 6.7 – nothing stellar but better than average – ‘Cradle’ remains the go-to film for anyone who wants to be scared out of hired live-in childcare.
There is more to be said about ‘Illusions’; the way it negligently brushes aside murder and assault charges, the sloppy and half-arsed closing scene, the musings of a middle-aged woman who fantasises about intimacy with her barely-legal babysitter and all the plot-holes that gape open wider than bill of a pelican.
But it feels like I’ve said all I can at this point. I was hoping for something to add a bit of colour to my currently beige existence, but didn’t get what I hoped for. So, I’ll wait a little longer and once the lockdown restrictions are lifted and I can meet up with people again, so I suspect that the vibrance and colour I desire will return.
For those of you feeling the same way, in the remining few weeks before it’s legal to live life again, go and cut some fresh chillies and then rub your eyes or the inside of your nose. Because that’s an experience to add some vibrance to your day… Watching ‘Deadly Illusions’ will ‘not’ add and vibrance to your day.
A reason why you should watch it: N/A.
A reason why you shouldn’t watch it: Because ‘50 Shades of Beige’ just isn’t your thing.