Daniel Isn't Real follows a young man, Luke (Miles Robbins) who reawakens his childhood imaginary friend, Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger), as his social struggles at college and a family tragedy come to a head. The charismatic Daniel proves helpful at first, but soon the dark side of Daniel reemerges and Luke must find a way to once again banish him from his reality.
(Daniel Isn't Real is currently in select theaters and is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video. Given the distribution rights Shudder holds in some regard, expect it on that platform as well sooner rather than later.)
Daniel Isn't Real Re-Review
I desperately wanted to revisit this film after seeing it at Telluride Horror Show. It was my favorite film from a very strong year at THS. It has everything I look for in a horror movie, in particular psychological horror. Of course, to contain this plot within the psychological bubble is a disservice to the expanse of the story, but it is at its core built in that structure.
Daniel Isn't Real uses every element of cinema at its disposal to far exceed its budget: acting, directing, cinematography, practical/special effects, sound, and score. Everything comes together in a flawless fashion that drives the emotion and tension of every scene. And the tension is intricately constructed in such a way that there is a gradual, yet reliably accelerated climb to the tension and dread. The film builds its pacing perfectly and it leads to a finale that is epic within its relatively small world.
Miles and Patrick do their fathers (Tim and Arnold, respectively) proud. Miles does a great job in his turn as a socially awkward, psychologically scarred loner that desperately wishes to escape the fate of his mentally ill mother. And opposite Miles, Patrick does a fantastic job of playing the charismatic, yet brooding and sadistic Daniel, with a dark, foreboding smile that only exudes his malevolent shadow within.
The directing of Adam Egypt Mortimer is spot-on from the opening scenes to the climax. He orchestrates a powerful tale that blends the psychological with the supernatural in a way that denotes parallels to our perceptions of reality throughout the centuries. But rather than dismiss one or the other, we get this beautiful dance between the two that leaves the audience grasping at tidbits in the script and scenes throughout the runtime.
Pure scares are few and far between. The existential dread and dismantling of emotions mixed with very effective imagery and violence is the key to this horror. It doesn't use cheap tricks to drive its scares and its horrifying moments, but rather lets the characters and their actions drive most of the fear and disturbance in the hearts of the audience. The score better serves to drive the atmosphere of scenes from the heartwarming to the foreboding, rather than use sharp strings to ensure a jump from the audience. The end result is a film that manages to piece everything together into a substance-driven horror film that is equal parts enjoyable and memorable.
Inevitably, this story is about the progression of Luke, but evolves into a tale that also cares for the origins of its antagonist. We get so much from visual and auditory delights that it can be easy to dismiss the intricacies of the two leads and their fruitful lines. In the coming weeks we'll be looking into our top 10 movies of the year, and I feel I'm going to have a hard time excusing this one from the top few of the list.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 8/10 Horror Quality: 7/10 Film Quality: 9/10