DANIEL ISNT REAL
Starring: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Hannah Marks, Mary Stuart Masterson
Directed by: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Written by: Adam Egypt Mortimer, Brian DeLeeuw
Based on the book In This Way I Was Saved by Brian DeLeeuw
“You’re not strong enough.”
When I was little, I had an imaginary friend. His name was Nathanial. Whenever I felt lonely, he would comfort me. I’ll conjure him up from time to time to help me cope with sadness or stress. Nathan was such a big part of me. I couldn’t imagine him hurting me or anyone honestly. I say this because the power of imagination is mighty, and it helps you whenever you need it the most. However, what happens when your imaginary best friend wants to hurt you? Wants to use your body as its vessel? Wants to use you as it’s home?
There are so few movies that put me at a lost for words, but Daniel Isn’t Real is a film that put me at that loss, but, at the same time, it makes me want to tell everyone about it. Daniel Isn’t Real is the perfect manifestation of storytelling to discuss themes like good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, our mind vs. our bodies, and imagination vs. reality. It’s a movie that had me guessing and second-guessing what happens next. It’s a movie that I guarantee will mindfuck you, and you’ll say “please, can I have some more?”
Daniel Isn’t Real is about a boy named Luke in an unstable household with a mentally ill mother (Mary Stuart Masterson). As a young boy, Luke finds solace and companionship with a boy named Daniel. Daniel isn’t your typical child. He has a sinister purpose behind him that leaves Luke to lock him up for a while. In college, Luke (Miles Robbins) finds himself stressed about his mother’s situation and trying to navigate the ways of adulthood. This leads Luke to let Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) out again … but this time, he doesn’t just want to play.
There are no real words to describe how insanely bonkers but utterly stunning this film is. It comes with a lot of messages about mental illness, incel culture, “nice guy” persona, art, imagination, and so much more. The basis for Daniel Isn’t Real comes from Brian DeLeeuw’s novel In This Way I was Saved. DeLeeuw co-wrote the script with director Adam Egypt Mortimer, and it couldn’t have been more of a match made in Heaven. The two create what feels like a cauldron of elements, half from the book and half all brand new.
At Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, Mortimer talked about some of the elements that came from him, one being Mr. Nobody, who was his imaginary friend. It was things like that which make this story special. Even with the themes I mentioned above, there’s a treasure trove of things you can dive into with this movie. For example, Daniel could be a deeper, darker manifestation of Luke’s trauma (if I wrote this, you’d never get out of this review alive, so I’ll spare you my in-depth analysis). You could write Daniel Isn’t Real off as another psychological mindfuck, but there are so many different things that feel so much deeper than that.
The stars of Daniel Isn’t Real do the WORK. They’re not only brilliant but even in the bad times, charming (except Daniel, fuck that guy). What’s great about this cast and even the characters, in general, was that they all had a place in Luke’s life, but they never felt like plot devices. Hannah Marks and Sasha Lane were excellent, bordering the lines of love interests, but never just THAT. Sasha Lane, especially being the main love interest in Luke’s story, felt natural and kooky but never strange in this world. Mary Stuart Masterson, as Daniel’s mother, harked back to her Benny & Joon days, which made me think that this was Joon all grown up. She was heartbreaking but endearing.
Patrick Schwarzenegger was … woosh, buddy. Schwarzenegger gave one of those performances that will HAUNT you. He plays Daniel like a Tyler Durden-esque (Fight Club) figure mixed with a suave, spellbinding Patrick Bateman (American Psycho). However, let’s not forget, Daniel’s a parasite. He’s terrifying, manipulative, and cunning. Schwarzenegger and Robbins play off of each other something special. They both bounce off each other like Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. In some of their scenes, it makes you uncomfortable because of the way their chemistry works, but it also makes you anxious to see what happens next between their characters.
Now, the absolute star of this movie was none other than Miles Robbins. He captured my heart in Halloween (2018), ’cause he was just that good. So, Robbins being cast as the lead in this will no doubt shoot him higher into the atmosphere as an actor. Robbins brings two sides of his performance that are unbelievable. As Luke, your heart BREAKS for him. Robbins plays him as shy and timid, but also nervous with a soft boy mix that you find yourself wanting to help. When he gets into the personality of Daniel, he shines here as well. He pulls off mimicking Schwarzenegger’s performance as Daniel and makes it cynical and diabolical, just as Schwarzenegger does, but in HIS way.
Daniel Isn’t Real feels like it has a lot of different elements and inspiration from other films. It feels so much like Fight Club meets American Psycho, with a little Mandy for visuals. However, it still manages to reach what it means to say all on its own. There are also so many different elements of what horror is in this film. There’s a bit of body horror, a lot of psychological, a bit of thriller, a sprinkle of cosmic, some inches of a romance. If you have the chance to see Daniel Isn’t Real, I couldn’t recommend this film enough. Daniel Isn’t Real truly has it all.