As a child Luke (Miles Robbins) has an imaginary friend called Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) who appears following the breakdown of his parents’ marriage and witnessing a shooting in a local café. When Daniel causes Luke to almost kill his mother, he locks him in as doll house and doesn’t think of him again. Years pass by and Luke contends with his mother’s deteriorating mental condition while trying to study at college. His therapist suggests he needs to let his imagination free once again, which causes Daniel to return but this time he’s ready to wreak havoc.
Daniel Isn’t Real is from director Adam Egypt Mortimer and the best way I can think to describe it is as a horror version of the Rik Mayall classic Drop Dead Fred. The film starts off playfully enough with Luke as a child playing with Daniel. Together they have sword battles and play nicely together, until Daniel starts encouraging Luke to engage in dangerous behaviour. When Daniel returns, he once again starts off friendly enough, giving Luke the courage to be less socially awkward and more confident.
It doesn’t take long before Daniel tries to instruct Luke’s every move, something that Luke initially refuses to let him do. A chance meeting with Cassie (Sasha Lane) gives Luke some grounding in reality but Daniel does his best to get between them, not wanting Luke to find happiness. Instead Daniel is content on taking over Luke completely so he can carry out his devilish behaviour whenever he wants. The film sees the two characters locked into a battle for control as Luke tries to keep his sanity and rid himself of Daniel once and for all.
Daniel Isn’t Real stars off strongly. It’s intriguing, at times funny and fairly intense. In many ways it’s an exploration of mental illness with Daniel symbolising Luke’s dual personality. The film moves more into the supernatural element in the second half, which is where it starts to falter a little bit. Honestly, it began to lose my attention a little bit, particularly when Daniel wasn’t on screen.
For me, Patrick Schwarzenegger gives a career best performance. He relishes playing a devilish character and this is the best, and most layered, performance I’ve seen him give. It plays against the type of characters we’ve seen before and he makes a fantastic villain. Sadly when he’s not on screen, the film does lag. Miles Robbins is good but he isn’t able to reach the same levels of crazy that Schwarzenegger does. Sasha Lane is also wasted as Cassie, never really being developed or given a whole lot of material.
Daniel Isn’t Real is a solid film but I didn’t think it was quite as clever as it thought it was. There are lots of ideas at play here, and many clear influences, but the end gets a little crowded and messy. The shift from reality to supernatural is a little jarring, and not particularly explained, and the climax feels inevitable. Visually the film is impressive and there are some nightmarish moments but it’s not quite the mind-bender it wants to be.
Cast: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Mary Stuart Masterson, Sasha Lane Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer Writers: Brian DeLeeuw, Adam Egypt Mortimer Certificate: TBC Duration: 96 mins Released by: Arrow Films