At first glance, Daniel Isn’t Real should have been a disaster. Quick edits, standard tropes, stereotypes… there are countless things that could make taken this movie down a very different path, and be worse for it.
Thankfully, due to direction by Adam Egypt Mortimer and top-notch performances from the entire cast, Daniel Isn’t Real offers up a compelling and often disturbing horror film that will take you to the abyss and back in the best possible way.
Luke is a lonely, isolated child, but it is not until his mother, Claire (Mary Stuart Masterson) and father split up, do things take a turn for the worse. As young Luke walks the streets, he witnesses a suicide, and it is here we are introduced to Daniel, Luke’s ‘imaginary’ friend. Claire at first indulges Luke, playing along with the concept of Daniel being a living part of his life, but things eventually turn messy, and Luke is forced to toss away childhood whimsy and actually give up ‘imaginary’ friends.
Years later, Luke (Miles Robbins) is still moody but now grown up into a precocious young adult, attending university but still acting like a loner. With his mother suffering some undisclosed mental ailment, Luke is worried he will soon suffer the same fate. So with this in mind, when Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) makes a comeback in Luke’s life, things quickly change for him in ways he never imagined.
With Daniel back in the picture and thanks to Patrick Schwarzenegger’s fantastic acting, the story of Daniel Isn’t Real finds its footing. The twists and turns the story goes down keep things surprising with the latter half of the movie taking an ominous and fantastical turn I was not expecting. From gore to the surreal, this is a movie that deserves to be watched fully.
But here lies the problem: while Daniel Isn’t Real presents some fantastical concepts and a toothy story, the first minutes of the film do drag. The gothic scenery and the quick “edgy” cuts do little to convey the story Adam Egypt Mortimer is trying to tell. The mystery of Daniel is the real draw, and the random psycho-babbling dialogue only detracts from a brilliant core concept.
Daniel Isn’t Real is a horror gem that deserves to be on everyone’s watch list. From the first moments Patrick Schwarzenegger enters the film to the brutal ending, this is a movie that demands your attention. While the beginning segment can drag, the latter half more than makes up for these small shortcomings. If you love horror, or just love walking the dark side of sanity, you should give Daniel Isn’t Real a watch.