Daniel Isn't Real
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Starring: Miles Robbins
Mary Stuart Masterson
After witnessing the aftermath of a mass shooting, a young Luke is befriended by the imaginary Daniel. Given how erratic Luke’s home life is with his mother Claire’s mental health issues and his father leaving as a result, Luke becomes very close to Daniel who is a welcome release for Luke’s isolation and sadness. After Daniel convinces Luke to make his mother a smoothie with an entire bottle of her medication as the main ingredient, Daniel is banished to his grandmother’s dollhouse never to be seen again.
Fast forward and we meet Luke again as his life is as troubled as it was when he was a child, and after a visit to his even more troubled mother, we see Daniel reappear in Luke’s life. At first, Daniel seems like a lifeline to Luke, just like when they were children. However, Daniel’s gentle, playful wingman persona slowly starts to turn dark and possessive when Luke starts to form relationships, especially with Cassie, a young artist. Friendship and companionship turn into a battle where the stakes are Luke’s mind and soul.
When I first came out of the cinema, I commented that this felt like Drop Dead Fred had read American Psycho and got a few ideas. But to be honest, the character of Daniel is far more sinister than that. The dynamic between Luke and Daniel shifts dramatically and in a disturbing fashion. Both as children and adults, what starts off as a helpful friendship turns into a power struggle for the soul, with Luke being pulled astray by the off kilter and quite frankly evil Daniel.
The theme of mental illness, especially schizophrenia, runs heavily throughout. There are times where the depiction isn’t entirely flattering, but this is a subject that isn’t always roses. Luke has had to deal with trauma and pain all his life and it has taken a heavy toll on him. Daniel represents everything that he tried to escape from and couldn’t, the darkness that had plagued him all his life. Daniel Isn’t Real deals with illness, human sadness and suffering in a way that is to some relatable. From the locking away of our personal demons to basic escapism. There is a tragedy told in this film and the aching, lonely void of dealing with issues, both your own and the people you care about.
The film was enjoyable, even with the heavy theme running through and I honestly feel that Adam Egypt Mortimer has created something that will be spoken about for years to come. Both leads give staggeringly good performances, Miles Robbins absolutely nails the vulnerable and slowly slipping Miles while Patrick Schwarzenegger gives a perfect performance as the charming yet sinister Daniel. Mary Stuart Masterson also give a sterling performance as Luke’s mother and her struggles with her own failing mental health.
I would definitely recommend seeing this as soon as you can. This is a horror film that delves deeply into raw emotions and takes you on one hell of a trippy ride, and that’s what makes it so good.