There’s a lot of movies at Frightfest (78 to be exact) but DANIEL ISN’T REAL was one of the movies I really wanted to see. The premise sounded really interesting and director Adam Egypt Mortimer‘s previous movie, Some Kind Of Hate, was a violent and entertaining slasher.
In DANIEL ISN’T REAL, a young man’s imaginary friend from childhood returns as an adult and slowly starts the same problems he did as a child. Now keen to lose his friend, Luke battles with his own mind and sanity to get rid of him.
DANIEL ISN’T REAL is a fascinating look at schizophrenia and mental health. Based on a novel and clearly well researched it will (hopefully) make many people look at the sufferers of mental illness in a completely different way. You see this guy do terrible things but is almost unable to do anything about. Desperately struggling even though he knows what is happening. He knows ‘Daniel Isn’t Real’.
Miles Robbins (Halloween, The X-Files) plays our main character, Luke, and his performance is exceptional. He perfectly portrays the good and bad of the character but makes it so that he is surprisingly relatable. He’s a flawed character, for sure, struggling with his identity while finding life difficult, and is basically looking after his mother. It’s when his imaginary friend comes back into his life that things start looking up. His awareness of Daniel not being real is one of the things that makes the movie stick out from other similar movies. It’s almost like an incredibly dark, less comedy influenced, and more horror-filled Drop Dead Fred. This might seem like an odd comparison but it really does feel right.
As Daniel, Patrick Schwarzenegger (yes, son of Arnie) is phenomenal. Known more for his modelling work than acting, he actually brings that style to the role. Constantly posing, acting and reacting to an audience of one. He’s scary but not in an obvious way. Mainly because he knows he has control of Luke and that he is ‘winning’ here. And that is terrifying when you are fully engrossed in the characters.
But what makes this a horror movie? Well many would argue, myself included, that the dark nature of the topics it handles makes DANIEL ISN’T REAL a very believable horror movie but it does have a bit of an ace up its sleeve. Unfortunately to say too much would spoil things but you kind of always know, almost from the opening scene that there’s something a bit more supernatural going on here. Director Adam Egypt Mortimer creates this whole other world around Daniel and with this he brings some fantastic visuals that kind of counter balance the rest of the movie. Working alongside these visuals is an amazing, heavy, sometimes loud score that remains continuous throughout. It’s something I’d love to listen to again, but like the movie itself, I’d imagine it’s a difficult listen.
Some of my favourite moments in DANIEL ISN’T REAL come in the form of small things. There’s an almost transformation scene when Luke turns into Daniel that is extraordinarily acted. There’s also a split second jump scare involving Daniel that has such perfect camera work and timing. In short, there’s so much to love about this movie
DANIEL ISN’T REAL is a hard watch at times as it is occasionally violent and depressing though always reaching for a happy ending. While it should be admired for how it handles mental health in its horror setting, it’s a genuinely thought-provoking, powerful and captivating movie that tackles its difficult subject matter head-on. It will certainly be one of my favourites of the year and one I will watch again as soon as possible.