Daniel Isn't Real Review
Based on the horror fiction book, In This Way I was Saved, by Brian DeLeeuw, Daniel Isn’t Real is director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s (Some Kind of Hate) twisted tale of a young man whose mental health and sense of reality begins to crumble thanks to the return of his imaginary friend, Daniel.
Young Luke (Griffin Robert Faulkner) is a shy and lonely but imaginative boy. When he witnesses a violent attack inside a local coffee shop and as the police investigate the gory crime scene, Daniel (Nathan Reid) joins Luke's side. Luke befriends the confident, playful and intelligent Daniel and the two soon become inseparable. But there’s one problem. Luke’s mother, Claire (Mary Stuart Masterson), can’t see Daniel yet quickly accepts Daniel as her son’s imaginary friend. However, after Luke ends up almost accidentally killing his mother (thanks to advice from Daniel), Claire persuades Luke to say goodbye to Daniel and the two decide to lock him up in an old doll house.
Years pass and Luke (now played by Miles Robbins) is a young university student riddled with anxiety, struggling to find his place in the world. The state of his mother’s mental health has deteriorated over the years and he has to help her deal with her frequent bouts of extreme paranoia. Terrified that he is destined to inherit Claire’s mental health problems, Luke seeks advice from his therapist (Chukwudi Iwuji), but in a state of loneliness, confusion and longing for comforts of the past, Luke opens his mother’s old doll house and Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger), also now fully grown, appears by his side once again. Providing Luke with the much-needed companionship that he gave him during childhood, Daniel starts to help Luke cope with the troubles at home, assists him with college work and encourages him to better his social life. Despite this, Daniel’s presence soon takes a more sinister turn and Luke’s concept of reality becomes increasingly blurry.
Daniel Isn’t Real is an interesting concoction of fantasy and horror and while elements of the story are relatively predictable, visually and creatively the film is intriguing and incredibly disturbing. The unsettling yet effective use of body horror is well executed and there are highly ominous sequences throughout the film that will likely be imprinted on the minds of viewers long after a first watch. The use of sound during the film is also highly effective. The film is full of loud, haunting, intrusive tones which enhance the already threatening imagery onscreen, and the music used at the beginning of the movie makes you feel uncomfortable before you even know what the film is about. Although entirely different in style, the feeling of uncertainty and impending doom that the score evokes at the start of Daniel Isn’t Real, could be compared with the disconcerting feeling brought to the surface thanks to the music at the beginning of The Shining.
Alongside the impressive use of imagery and sound, the performances in Daniel Isn’t Real also deserve a mention. Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger work well as a duo and it is interesting to watch their characters go to those dark places together throughout the film. Luke’s personality goes through a series of changes across the duration of the movie and Robbins does an excellent job of displaying this in a very natural, believable way and his physical performance is incredibly strong. Watching Luke gradually loosen his grip on reality and descend into a state of confusion and despair is highly disturbing.
Unfortunately, the cast are let down by a screenplay which felt a little rushed and unpolished. Certain sections of dialogue feel awkward and unnatural and it is not always clear if some interactions between characters are meant to be comical or not. The film also suffers thanks to the overabundance of central characters which become increasingly distracting. Luke has several relationships with college friends, meetings with his therapists as well as the two girls - Cassie (Sasha Lane) and Sophie (Hannah Marks) - he is pursuing romantically. Luke spends a lot of time with each of these characters individually, which makes the second act feel a little confused and the overall plot of the film lost. Although some of these interactions were necessary, at certain points to allow the audience to grasp Luke’s dwindling mental state, not all were needed.
The third act unfolds rather abruptly due to scenes of lengthy dialogue, however, it is still thoroughly enjoyable to watch and was perhaps the best part of the film. This is where the madness and fantasy-focussed aspect of the film dives into a whole new level and fans of gory, imaginative, fantasy-driven-horror will surely be delighted with the sequences presented here. These scenes may have been more impactful if the film had focussed less on the scattered conversations between Luke and his peers, and more screen time exploring the relationship between Daniel and Luke. It tries to pack too much into its 100 minutes which means that the interesting dynamic between Robbins’ and Schwarzenegger’s characters often felt neglected.
Although certain plot points and sections of dialogue felt cluttered and confused, Daniel Isn’t Real is packed with nightmarish imagery and contains an interesting exploration into the positive and negative effects mental health can have on an individual's creativity, making the film a refreshing addition to the horror genre.
Daniel Isn't Real is released in selected cinemas on February 7th and then on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video on February 10th