Daniel Isn't Real

 

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Horror finds a unique, visceral new face with Daniel.

 

Daniel Isn't Real

In your dreams: Patrick Schwarzenegger and Miles Robbins

  

Daniel Isn’t Real is a genre film. What a lovely sentence to have the privilege to write. This past decade saw the resurgence of the auteur horror filmmaker. Bold newcomers such as Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse), Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar), and Jennifer Kent (The Babadook, The Nightingale) came crashing into the scene with bleak and shocking statements of the human condition. These films delighted to disturb, creatively blending drama and horror to reinvigorate and legitimize a genre of filmmaking previously dismissed as straight-to-DVD fodder.

 

Adam Egypt Mortimer’s sophomore feature is the latest discovery of midnight madness. An 80s’ throwback to Cronenberg and Carpenter chillers, the film uses sci-fi/horror stylings and tropes to discuss mental illness, social isolation, and masculine violence. It tells the story of a young man and his imaginary friend (played delightfully by Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger, respectively), exploring the nature of sanity, even reality.

 

Where narratives such as this typically fall short, is the marriage of story and message. The delicate balancing act of creating an entertaining horror rollercoaster, while thoughtfully and responsibly discussing the thematic subject matter, is in this case mental illness. Tone makes or breaks a film, and Mortimer succeeds by keeping the action fun. As dark and gruesome as things become, there is still a sense of play. Whether it be a well-timed scare, a purposefully hammy line delivery, or a flash of “how did they do that?” special effect, there is a conscious celebration of film-making, as well as film-watching. Mortimer is adding a specific texture to the film’s DNA, the “you have to see this movie” factor that provides the lifeblood to a project like this. Quality is necessary to be distinguished in an oversaturated market, and word of mouth is key to its survival.

 

It’s difficult to describe the film in specific terms without giving away the tricks and secrets. Like any good genre film, Daniel Isn’t Real should be met on its own terms with no previous knowledge or expectations. The joys should be discovered for one’s self. What can be said is that it is unique, a truly nightmarish and creative expression of the inner demons that haunt each of us, and the daily inner battle we engage to survive them. It is a Lovecraftian thrill-ride, visually stunning, with plenty visceral excitement on the surface, and surprisingly thoughtful meditations available for those willing to dig a little under the surface.

 

CALEB JOHN CUSHING

 

Cast: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Mary Stuart Masterson, Hannah Marks, Chukwudi Iwuji, Peter McRobbie, Andrew Bridges.

 

Dir Adam Egypt Mortimer, Pro Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller and Lisa Whalen, Screenplay Adam Egypt Mortimer and Brian DeLeeuw, from the novel In This Way I Was Saved by Brian DeLeeuw, Ph Lyle Vincent, Pro Des Kaet McAnneny, Ed Brett W. Bachman, Music Chris Clark, Costumes Begonia Berges.

 

SpectreVision/ACE Pictures-Arrow Film Distributors.

100 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 7 February 2020. Cert. 15.