“And…the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”
-Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
What do you get when you let a very, very vivid imagination run a little too wild? Schizo-horror at it’s finest in the form of Daniel isn’t Real. Strap in, folks, this one is a must see.
This flick follows troubled college freshman Luke (Miles Robbins) who, after suffering a violent family trauma, resurrects his childhood imaginary friend Daniel (Patrick 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 soul.
Trying chalk Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel isn’t Real up to just another psychological thriller would be trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. I’d consider it misleading on my part. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some pretty grizzly stuff–blood, guts and gnarly effects, oh my!–that’s happily tossed about throughout the film’s meager 100-minute run time. Glimpses of some of these instances can be seen in the movie’s official trailers. The trailer is intriguing. It’s the whole reason I wanted to watch it in the first place. Taking something as inherently innocent and, for some, as nostalgic as an imaginary friend till it’s distorted into something malicious? Sign me up immediately.
As the film carries on, we see these bizarre situations evolve out of our characters and one can’t help find certain aspects easy to identify with: general millennial angst, mental health, being in a relationship with someone with an undiagnosed mental illness, trauma, etc… Presenting these inner demons in such a literal sense with such vivid visuals aided with strong performances makes for a sinister, and yet oh so satisfying, watch. At times, you will be repulsed by, yet simultaneously sympathetic with these characters. Even king nihilist himself, Daniel.
In this dumpster fire year of 2019 I’ve seen plenty of great films and so few of those have skyrocketed onto my yearly top ten list the way Daniel isn’t Real has. So, instead of forcing it into the general category of “horror”, it is deserving of a more graceful illustration. This tightly wound exploration into nostalgia and childhood clashes with a delicate psyche and makes for one of the most engrossing films of the year. A mind f*ck, if you will.
Also See: Lisa [Rabid Dog’s House]
This absolute must see works purely due to the strong performances of the leading actors. Especially that of Miles Robbins, who emerges as a star in the making with his take on the anxious Luke. Robbins is expressive, raw and a makes quietly convincing descent into madness. The chemistry between Robbins and Schwarzenegger is undeniable even as the intricate choreography between them gets increasingly more bizarre throughout the movie. Which takes precious little time. And just when you think sh*t has already hit the fan–or when you though you were smart taking the movie’s title too literally–things somehow get stranger as this somehow evolves into a paranormal situation, making a mockery out of the primarily psychological one. Like I said: kind of a mindf*ck.
In short? Daniel isn’t Real has all the trimmings of an instant cult classic. The story is tight with a high momentum to keep the audience hooked, a satisfying ending (which ensures there will be no sequel) and a delicious aura of impending doom that’s topped off nicely with a smooth sense of humor. Relish in fear and prepare to have your stomach turn at the utter insanity of Daniel isn’t Real. You can check it out for yourself in theaters and on VOD December 6th. You won’t regret it.
Wicked Rating: 9/10
Director(s): Adam Egypt Mortimer
Writer(s): Brian DeLeeuw, Adam Egypt Mortimer
Starring: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Hannah Marks
Release date: December 6th, 2019
Studio/Production Company: Spectrevision
Run Time: 96 minutes