I think it's safe to assume all of us probably had an imaginary friend at one point or another. Someone to hang out with on those rainy days or get us through those parental fights or just to make loneliness disappear. If not, well you still probably had a good childhood. I remember having one but couldn't tell you anything about them to save my life. If anything else, I probably had more imaginary girlfriends than I did actual friends. *laughs* I can't believe I just admitted to that. *laughs again* I just wanted to feel a sense of peace and purpose and companionship - even at a young age. I had a core set of friends and would even hang out with my little sister on occasion. Though, those dark times still existed though. Those lonely nights. Those rainy days. Those hard times. Imagination was a way to cope with all of that.
What if your imaginary friend didn't exist to help you cope or for company, though? What if they existed to bring out your darkest fears, thoughts and actions? Co-writer and director, Adam Egypt Mortimer, explores these very questions in his latest psychological horror thriller, Daniel Isn't Real. Daniel chronicles the journey of Luke, played by Miles Robins, who experiences a violent trauma with his mother. In an effort to cope, he resurrects his imaginary friend from his childhood, played by Patrick Schwarzenegger. Though he gets more than he bargains for.
For some people, the name Patrick Schwarzenegger namely rings a bell because of his father. To others, some may have seen him in last year's sleeper romantic drama, Midnight Sun. Though, its going to be his turn as Daniel that completely cements him in the underground film and horror circuits. Schwarzenegger is deliciously phenomenal as the main antagonist of the film. Going to truly uncomfortable depths with a sheer intensity that rivals some of Hollywood's biggest names. He is a force to be reckon with. His charm and suave make you love him but it's his intensity that makes you fear him. One of this year's best performances by far. Schwarzenegger brings with him an electricity that completely captivates viewers from his charm to his final form. You'll never see his finale coming.
While Schwarzenegger makes up the antagonism of the film, its Robbins that ushers in its heart and vulnerability. The son of a mental ill mother, Daniel allows for the film to explore the hereditary effects in which are mentally passed between generations. The vulnerable nature of Luke allows Robbins to explore more than the stoner boyfriend from last year's Halloween. Robbins delivers an emotionally charged performance that equally demonstrates his range. Even in the film's final act, Robbins proves that he is a talent worthy of the eye attention. Demonstrating an array of emotion, Robbins completely matches the raw emotion laid out by Schwarzenegger.
Even with its stellar cast, Daniel doesn’t always make the wisest in narrative decisions. While the bulk of the first act focuses largely on the history of the characters and Luke’s relationship with his mother – its’ the details of its middle act which leaves you puzzled. The film attempts to set up a mental illness with Luke’s mother in a way which makes it seem as if Daniel is a product of a hereditary illness. The story just misses the mark with trying to force itself into the narrative. Though, its’ not alone. Daniel aims to set up a dual love triangle for no purpose. Creating scenes that are not only uncomfortable, but unnatural and unneeded.
Overall, Daniel Isn’t Real, is an intriguing horror film that can have too much imagination for its own good. The film boasts career defining performances from its young cast in Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger. Not to mention, its LSD visuals also make for one of the most unique visual aesthetic to hit the big screen this year. Its’ visuals, narrative and strong performances help the film form a unique identity that finds itself somewhere in the middle of Drop Dead Fred meets The Excorist with a splash of Mandy. However, some of its narrative choices are bizarre, to say the least. Presenting a forced family dynamic and two oddly placed romantic arcs – Daniel aims to use its imagination, more than its narrative for execution.
And more importantly, if you or someone you know is struggling with suicide, addiction, self-harm or depression - please free feel to reach out. Use any our resources, call the suicide lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or text 741-741.
Credits: Daniel Isn’t Real is property of Samuel Goldwyn Films. We do not own nor claim any rights. This is an official selection of Lost Weekend XII.