The independent film arena is still the best place to discover stellar genre fare. These films don’t need the huge (and complex) marketing models which have all but destroyed the concept of variety and choice within mainstream cinema. Director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real (based on the novel by Brian DeLeeuw) is an exceptional psychological horror/fantasy which is rich in character and strong on visual imagery. Superficially this might be genre piece, but it’s also a film which raises questions about mental health and relationships.
Miles Robins is Luke, a troubled young man scarred from his parents’ divorce and observing a violent death in his youth. He struggled through his childhood with the aid of an imaginary friend called Daniel. However, when Daniel’s games get too dangerous, he’s banished to the back of Luke’s mind. Years later when Luke is now a young man, the stresses of life lead to Daniel’s reappearance. At first Daniel helps Luke with his confidence, but soon the darker aspects of Daniel’s persona begin to takeover. As you can imagine, things don’t go too well.
Adam Egypt Mortimer has impressively constructed a character study which shows how the central character begins to unravel. You can see and understand his struggle as he attempts to get his life on an equal kilter, something which is much easier said than done. Oddly, the central character in Daniel Isn’t Real goes on a similar psychological journey as Joaquin Phoenx’s Arthur Fleck in Todd Phillips’ Joker. The character of Luke mirrors Arthur’s journey, while Daniel is essential the Joker – the darkness lurking underneath. It’s all about light and shade; good and evil. The film builds towards a mind-bending climax, thrusting the film into a Cliver Barker-style version of Luke’s mind.
Daniel Isn’t Real is a film which features some fantastic performances. Miles Robins impresses as the conflicted Luke, and Sasha Lane is also excellent as his would-be girlfriend, the only person who can bring balance to his life. However, the film’s highlight is Patrick Schwarzenegger’s turn as the title character. It’s a star-making performance, filled with charisma and menace and at times he’s very reminiscent of his iconic father. This should be a break-out movie for him.
A film which works as a horror-fantasy and a psychological thriller, Daniel Isn’t Real delivers on all levels. It’s well acted and the tech specs are all top-notch. This is a highly recommended cult film in the making.