Daniel Isn’t Real (2019)
Director (and co-writer): Adam Egypt Mortimer
Cast: Patrick Schwarzenegger, Miles Robbins, Mary Stuart Masterson, Sasha Lane, Hannah Marks
Daniel Isn’t Real is as 2019 American horror thriller about a boy’s imaginary friend that starts taking over and controlling his life.
In the midst of his parents’ split, young Luke is lonely and confused. That is until he meets young Daniel, a boy that only he can see. As most kids do, they end up locking away their imaginary friend but years later, as his mother’s condition gets worse after he leaves for university and he starts seeing odd images, he is lead to believe that facing his imaginary friend is needed and so Daniel is unlocked again. Whats starts out as a fun little company turns out to be a lot more sinister. Luke starts questioning whether its his evil subconscious that created this companion and whether Daniel is real or not.
Daniel Isn’t Real is a thing of the worst scary stories when the innocent child’s imaginary friend who is normally a safe haven turns into a thing of nightmares. Under neon-tinted scenes and the borderline of fantasy and schizophrenia, this story is creepy and unsettling. Perhaps its because its born from such a naive source of creativity and dependence. The lighting is used with incredible care. Not only does the color change with red neon lit hallways or white spotlights for example, it works not only to making the film visually stylistic but also, it gives each shot and its character a different emphasis and vibe. The same can be said about how the shots are framed. Its identified as a body horror and probably not in the way most would expect, and is done so well. Its quick-paced and as intriguing as it is crazy and entertaining all thanks to great execution.
All that dials down to the the two mains. The first being imaginary friend, Daniel played spectacularly by Patrick Schwarzenegger. Given Daniel is crafted with a lot of suspense to begin with even as a child, he delivers on giving this ominous imagination so much character and charm. He’s controlling, dominant and cunning and all this seeps through with not only the dialogue, but also his looming (and lurking) presence navigating the scene while immensely charming with each perfectly dressed moment and evil grin, packing in so much self-confidence. His character is the opposite of Luke (Miles Robbins) which makes sense as Daniel brings out the confidence in Luke, giving him the power to see what he can achieve but in turn also creating the tension between the two as the balance starts slipping away. In a film like this, there is an obvious twist coming: one that seeds from whether Daniel is actually an imagination or whether on a deeper scale, mental illness or simply something else.
Daniel Isn’t Real has its little flaws though. Its minor and easily can be overlooked with all the style and charm and fear that the film does. It all dials down to one character, the psychiatrist who pushes the story back on the path by encouraging Luke to release Daniel in the first place as a help for his issues (which we all know is never a good idea especially in horror films). If this scene didn’t happen, there wouldn’t be a movie however, other than that part, this character is essentially unnecessary in any other scene. Its a mystery in itself why this was chosen.
Despite this little flaw, Daniel Isn’t Real is a must-see. Its a horrifying trip seeded from the most innocent of youth creativity and dives deep into the issues of mental illness and evil possessions. Its a jaw-dropping ride that escalates from the positives of having an imaginary friend to the negatives as it takes over and where to draw the line, when to let go and maybe even reconsider this notion and just lock them away forever.