Daniel Isn’t Real (Movie Review)

Remember that hilariously uneven Fantasy/Comedy Drop Dead Fred from 1991? Well now close your eyes and picture the same movie only through the eyes of David Cronenberg. Fun, right? Indie Director Adam Egypt Mortimer follows up his 2015 death wave gem Some Kind of Hate with Daniel Isn’t Real set for release on Friday, December 6th in theaters, as well as On Demand/Digital thanks to Samuel Goldwyn Films and Shudder. 

Daniel Isn’t Real still.

It features a surprisingly solid Patrick Schwarzenegger (The Long Road Home mini-series, Midnight Sun 2018), Miles Robbins (Blockers 2018, Halloween 2018), Sasha Lane (American Honey 2016, Hellboy 2019), Hannah Marks (Awkward series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency series) and Mary Stuart Masterson (Some King of Wonderful 1987, Fried Green Tomatoes 1991). It was directed by Mortimer who also co-wrote the film with Brian DeLeeuw (Some Kind of Hate 2015, Paradise Hills 2019) based on his novel of the same name. 

The story follows troubled college freshman Luke (Robbins) who suffers a violent family trauma and resurrects his childhood imaginary friend Daniel (Schwarzenegger) to help him cope. Charismatic and full of manic energy, Daniel helps Luke to achieve his dreams, before pushing him to the very edge of sanity and into a desperate struggle for control of his mind — and his soul.

There is a lot to love about this film though the true stand out is Schwarzenegger himself. When you see his performances in fluff pieces like Midnight Sun and Go North, you think he is simply what he is. A pretty face with limited range. However not unlike Matthew McConaughay’s sinister turn in 2012’s Killer Joe… Schwarzenegger reveals a side of himself that will alter his future persona for years to come. Needless to say it is a revelation.

Daniel Isn’t Real still.

Mortimer manages to navigate through a psychologically complex spiderweb with a manic confidence that never makes it feel slow or boring. His collaboration with DP Lyle Vincent decorates the film with a dark vibrancy and lush visual effects that will likely get into your bones by the time the credits roll. It’s always refreshing to see bold filmmakers in our current PC climate really go for the throat and make something timeless with their content. Daniel Isn’t Real is a film that demands you watch it even when the most heinous things are taking place. When Daniel, the imaginary friend, starts revealing his true colors all hell breaks loose which makes for a wild hallucinatory experience dissecting the worst cases of mental illness and self-destruction.

Daniel Isn’t Real has a genuine edge. That kind of edge where you would swear the filmmaker was just released from a psych ward a month before shooting began. From the moment a shotgun blast goes off in a public diner in the opening to the final scene of an overhead shot of a young man dead on the pavement with his head caved in and a pool of blood surrounding it. It is the kind of danger we do not normally see from films of this scale. Especially ones with a premise as bizarre as this one is. Aside from Schwarzenegger, everyone else for the most part is pretty solid. as Luke applies a truthfulness to his condition without ever making it feel forced. Masterson is pitch perfect as the troubled mother of Luke who has severe mental illnesses of her own. There’s a scene where pills are mixed into her shake causing her to get sick and it is riveting because it is so real and sad.

Daniel Isn’t Real still.

However, if there is a negative side to Daniel Isn’t Real it is that you thrust into the final 20 minutes or so, the editing intercuts between real life and an underground alternative reality and it feels very jarring and not in a good way. There is times where it is tricky to understand what is  going on and what is happening to who exactly. That said, it makes up for it with a dynamite final fight between Daniel and Luke on a rooftop involving a couple of swords.

Ultimately Daniel Isn’t Real is a solid entry in the Psychological Thriller sub-genre. Mortimer lives up to the promise of his first feature Some Kind of Hate to deliver a more mature, more polished and overall better made film. Hopefully we will not need to wait too much longer for him to blow our heads off again. Until then, Cryptic Rock gives Daniel Isn’t Real 4 out of 5 stars.

Samuel Goldwyn Films



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