… is he?
Luke is the product of a severely dysfunctional home-life. At an early age, he develops an imaginary friend, Daniel, which seemingly helps as a coping mechanism. They play and talk like kids do, all very innocently until Daniel’s intentions start becoming increasingly sinister. Small at first; murderous soon.
Things almost go very badly, and Luke is finally forced to
lock away Daniel in a dollhouse.
Fast forward ten odd years, and Luke, having left his mother’s house for a college dorm, again finds himself in a bad place. And what better way to deal with your darkest fears than reacquainting yourself with an old friend?
With his newfound freedom, Daniel seemingly helps Luke, who loosens up and develops a social aptitude. Girls are attracted to him, and he starts doing better in school. Yet history soon starts repeating itself, and this time nobody is standing in Daniel’s way to finish his work.
Daniel Isn’t Real is at its base level a well-produced insight into a broken human psyche. When Daniel shows Luke the correct answers during a test, what we really see is Luke pulling out knowledge hidden in the back of his mind. Repeating passages from books quoted by Daniel to impress girls, shows Luke remembering what he at one time had read. Right?
Things start taking some severe twists halfway through the film, and it should surprise no-one that Daniel Isn’t Real could might as well be called Daniel Isn’t Real? What Daniel is or isn’t is something any viewer needs to figure out themselves – it certainly isn’t a straightforward conclusion to reach.
As a whole, Daniel Isn’t Real is a well-made movie. The cast, led by Miles Robbins (Luke) and Patrick Schwarzenegger (Daniel), helps bring forth a film that is equally edifying and engrossing. The story goes in many weird directions, but it never loses sight of mental illness as its core theme. The balancing act is impressive.
The film was produced by SpectreVision – an Elijah Wood joint – which has done an admirable job at delivering artisanal indie horrors as of late. Mandy was their handiwork, as is the upcoming Color Out of Space (both starring a rejuvenated Nic Cage). Daniel Isn’t Real fits well into this current canon – eclectic, yet not something that would alienate a more mainstream audience.
Daniel Isn’t Real works both as a study in psychology and as a tense, dreamlike thriller. It ranks high on my list of movies from 2019.
Bravo to whomever wrote Patrick Schwarzenegger’s original IMDb profile. Only recently has it been updated with the name of his father: an Austrian-born former Governor of California.
Letterboxd summary: A troubled college freshman, Luke, suffers a violent family trauma and resurrects his childhood imaginary friend Daniel to help him cope.
Ratings from around the web
|One Star Classics||5/6|