We all had an imaginary friend. I, myself, personally had an imaginary spider monkey. However, as inventive or as fun as our invisible allies may be, I bet we’ve never had one so vindictive or malevolent as Daniel.
Based the book, In This Way I Was Saved by Brian DeLeeuw, Daniel Isn’t Real revolves around Luke, a shy and troubled boy who once witnesses a terrible mass shooting where he meets another lonely on-looking boy Daniel. Together they form an immediately close friendship. However, when Daniel encourages Luke to poison her mother (which she luckily survives,) Luke is forced to lock Daniel away for good. Flash forward a few years and a tragic event causes Daniel to reappear to look after Luke. But the friendship teeters on the edge when Daniel forces Luke to do more dangerous tasks.
Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer and starring Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger, the film is a brilliant and extreme exploration of mental health and the parasitic nature of its beast. Though the film is at its strongest when Daniel’s presence is constantly questions and reviewed, Mortimer does well to develop a beast – a suckling of energy, time, and memories that could represent many who deal with the devil inside of them.
A colourful and visual movie, Daniel Isn’t Real is captivating. From the brooding space-like spectrums of Daniel’s mental prison to the heated summer cityscape of New York, the film is a blend of indie-schlock and David Cronenberg-esque high-jinks. The latter sees some intense and weird body horror through computerised effects and also practical. It serves to move the film beyond its profound study of mental health and whilst it quakes the thrill of not knowing who Daniel really is, it as a layer of chill to the film.
The film has some brilliant performances at the heart of it. Schwarzenegger, son of the famous Arnie, is a great antagonist – a slick-haired nihilist who wants to see the world burn through his Luke conduit. Though he starts off earning the trust of his brain-fellow, as he starts to pull the threads of Luke’s mental state, Schwarzenegger is greatly sadistic. He also threads in a longing for Daniel – a strong need to be human and flesh. It is a brilliant villain role.
He is paired with Miles Robbins (Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon’s son, nonetheless.) Robbins has many dualities here which he balances well with the weak-willed and struggling Luke. First the is a student, struggling to focus with his own mental health issues. Secondly he is a son, looking after his unwell mother. Thirdly he is a friend, looking to escape his loneliness. Finally, he is a boyfriend, finding solace is Sasha Lane’s artistic, fierce, but tender Cassie. Robbins is engrossing as he shifts and shapes through this character, breaking from stress and tension.
Set to a great synth score by Chris Clark, Daniel Isn’t Real is a tangible indie horror with palpable and humanely real characters.
Well – not all of them.
DANIEL ISN’T REAL will be released in UK Cinemas 7th February 2020, and on Blu-ray and Digital HD on 10th February 2020.