Netflix viewers have quickly realized that Deadly Illusions embraces the "less is more" motto to be "more tantalizing and intriguing than actual pornography," in the words of its writer and director Anna Elizabeth James.
The mind twist that is Deadly Illusions centers on bestselling author Mary Morrison (Kristin Davis), who hires an innocent nanny, Grace (Greer Grammer), to take care of her two kids while she writes her next book. What follows is Mary's sexual fantasy (or is it reality?) of her love affair with Grace, who is hiding a rather startling secret.
Anna and Greer spoke with E! News about the psycho-sexual thriller and answered all of our burning questions after we watched that shocking ending unfold. What does that final scene really mean? And what's up with all the cigars? Well, spoilers ahead because we got some answers!
Why on Earth does Mary smoke so many cigars?
Deadly Illusions includes several pensive scenes that show Mary mysterious smoking her cigars while planning her book or staring out the window. Why? Anna reveals that the habit is inspired by her personal experience, saying, "I smoke cigars sometimes when I write, and I find that smoking cigars brings out a masculine side to me."
As for the significance, the filmmaker shares, "We're flipping the narrative a little." At the beginning, Mary's husband Tom (Dermot Mulroney) is the "the bread winner." However, Anna says, "Then things switch, and now he's cooking dinner, and now she's the bread winner, and she's wearing those pants. The cigars is symbolism for the masculine energy."
So, what really happens at the end of the movie?
Mary's friend, Elaine (Shanola Hampton), ends up stabbed to death, but it's not totally clear who killed her. On the surface, it appears that it might have been Grace, who suddenly exposes her more sinister side, known as Margaret, when she goes after Mary and Tom.
But is that really what happened? Or, was this all in Mary's head? Did she actually kill Elaine to live out her book, given the police evidence? Or was the movie itself meta, as in, we were just watching the plot of her book?
We may never know what was an illusion and what was reality, because Greer, 29, has one simple explanation: "To me, it's like, you're supposed to draw your own conclusions. You're supposed to come up with your own theories. There isn't supposed to be an answer to that. That is all on you, as a viewer, and what you want it to be."
She says, in that way, the ending is similar to the rest of the film. "[It] kind of goes back to the whole movie, which is: What's real? What's not? Is this Mary's fantasy? Is this actually happening? Is Grace a figment of her imagination?" muses the Awkward. alum.
It turns out, the ambiguous ending is intentionally similar. "It's like a choose your own adventure almost. We want you to question those things and we want you to wonder and draw your own conclusions," Greer explains.
But who is that woman? And why don't we ever know?
As viewers will recall from the end of the movie, Mary visits Grace at a facility and plays the card game, Crazy Eights, with her (too on the nose?).
In the final shot, the woman in disguise (wearing a trench coat, Chanel purse, sunglasses and bandana) is seen once more as she walks out of the building, though her identity is never officially revealed to be Mary, Grace or someone else.
As Greer recalls, that was the plan all along, and we'll likely never know the answer for sure.
"That ending never changed," she tells E! News. "That was the first thing that Anna came to me with. And I immediately was like, ‘I love that you don't know who's walking out.'"
The actress adds, "Everyone wants us to explain it. Everyone wants an ending. And I'm like, that's not the point. The point is that you get to sit there and decide what you want it to be or what you think it is."
Why does the tone feel kind of strange?
Anna explains one of the film's most distinctive aspects by pointing out the female gaze. She says the female perspective can be "shocking" because "it's different" that what viewers may be used to.
"A lot of this generation hasn't been exposed to this subgenre, so they're reacting like, ‘This is so crazy and weird.' But this is not that crazy and weird," says Anna, who has also spearheaded Destined to Ride and Emma's Chance. In Deadly Illusions, Mary's sexual desires are brought to the forefront as she fantasizes about a romantic connection with Grace.
Another example of the film's unique tone comes from its sound effects, specifically in that frightening shower scene in which Grace transforms into Margaret.
"When Grace runs away in that key moment of the shower scene, it needs to tickle you. You need to giggle," Anna says. So what did the sound crew do to help get that across? "They created a tickle sound. And you're just supposed to bust up laughing. You're supposed to laugh," admits the director.
Greer goes on to say that these unpredictable twists and turns make the movie what it is.
"You expect it to fall into tropes," she reflects. "People, when they put it on, they're expecting one type of movie. And they're either completely into it and open to the ride that it takes when it doesn't go the way you think it's supposed to—or, they get really upset by it. They're like, 'That wasn't what I was expecting at all.' And it's like, but that's the fun of it."
So, if the beauty of the film lies in its ambiguity, what exactly was it intended to convey?
When asked how they would describe the film, Greer says, "I keep telling people that it's a crack trip of a ride... Not that I know what that is—it's just a lot."
In Anna's answer, she explains some of her intentions behind the movie. "I would start out with the word fuzzy, just because that was the intent. I wanted to give the audience an experience [of] what it's like to not have clarity. That feeling is a frustrating feeling," she notes, adding that she would also rightfully call Deadly Illusions "tantalizing and mind-bending."
She says that even people that hate-watch the Netflix drama will hopefully, eventually, pick up on some of the subtleties of the genre. As she put it, "If you hate the film equally as those who love it, that's okay, too. Maybe you'll come back to it in five years and laugh your ass off."
Watch the duo's full interview above.