‘Daniel Isn’t Real’ Review: Dir. Adam Egypt Mortimer [A Scare a Day]

As a child Luke (Miles Robbins) had an imaginary friend called Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger), but after several issues, Luke sent him away. Whilst adjusting to college and worrying about his schizophrenic mother, he calls Daniel forth once more. In the beginning having Daniel around is great; Daniel helps Luke gain more confidence, and the interest of Cassie (Sasha Lane). Cracks soon begin to appear however, and it seems like Daniel may have some very dangerous intentions for Luke and those around him.

There is nothing more that I will share on the plot of Daniel Isn’t Real as this is one of those films (as with a lot of this year’s Frightfest crop) that work best when you know as little as possible. What I can share is that the story is based on the novel In This Way I Was Saved by co-writer Brian DeLeeuw; although it’s worth pointing out that the novel is told from the perspective of Daniel, whereas the film shifts Luke into the spotlight. By making the voice of the story be the human component it obviously allows our audience an easy and identifiable way in. There’s also a treasure trove of ideas and stories within the film, some of which would make an interesting film in their own right. For example, the opening moments with Luke and Daniel as young boys, and the events that cause them to separate, could more than easily be worked into an independent feature.

Given that the film focuses mainly on just two characters, it’s important that the right cast has been chosen, and Mortimer has really lucked out. Miles Robbins is brilliant as Luke, channelling his inner demons and projecting them out onto the screen in an entirely believable and identifiable manner. Opposite him is Patrick Schwarzenegger (yes he’s Arnies’ son) in what is sure to be a breakout role for the model-turned-actor. His portrayal of Daniel is stunning, all too easily he could have taken the character too far, but instead he reels the audience in with his rather restrained take on psychopathy. There’s a darkness underneath the charm that is always present, making the viewer feel more and more uncomfortable as the story progresses.

Technically, Daniel Isn’t Real is one of the strongest films I have ever seen, and not just at Frightfest. The sound design includes sound effects of swords clanging with one another and parachutes being deployed – to create the imaginary world that Daniel and Luke inhabit. The score is a brooding, moody, chain of sound that runs parallel to the story. You can effectively work out Luke’s mental state just based off of what you hear. As strong as the audio is, the visuals are even stronger (if that’s even possible). Not only does Mortimer meticulously start to gradually crank up the vibrancy and opacity of the film’s colours, he also gifts some heavenly swirling vortexes (accompanied by moving camera) and cosmic dreamscapes. Everything combines to whisk the viewer away to the fantastical worlds within the minds of Daniel and Luke.

Daniel Isn’t Real has echoes of a string of films: Donnie Darko, Fight Club, Rules of Attraction, American Psycho and Requiem For a Dream. All of these films are seen as being classics within their respective genres and Mortimer captures the essence of each of them, mixing them together to create something that is simply superb. It’s a rare case of a film whose elements all work together harmoniously, the result being nothing short of perfection. Daniel Isn’t Real is a delight for the senses and the mind. Do not miss this truly remarkable film.

If Brett Easton Ellis had written Drop Dead Fred, Daniel Isn’t Real could have easily been the result. Mortimer captures the essence of several cult classic movies, and mixes them together to create something that is simply superb.

Daniel Isn’t Real is available to own on Blu-ray now.

This review first appeared on THN.