Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Daniel Isn’t Real and based on the synopsis it seemed like your classic case of ‘dark elements of one’s psyche’ manifesting themselves into physical form’, in this case an imaginary friend. But there was something.. *off* about the poster artwork, an esoteric colour scheme and title font that intuitively said “no, there’s more than that here.” Yeah, a whole lot more. This is one of the most visually unafraid, thematically complex and stylistically bizarre horror films I’ve ever seen and my hat is several miles off to its audacity, vision and immersive realm crafting. Director Adam Egypt Mortimer says he was inspired by Adrian Lyne’s classic horror film Jacob’s Ladder, which makes sense in casting Tim Robbins’ own son Miles as quiet, disturbed college student Luke. He witnessed an unthinkably violent event when he was just a boy and has been dealing with his severely mentally ill mother (Mary Stuart Masterson) his entire life and in coping with that trauma he has employed the companionship and assistance of a mysterious imaginary friend named Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Daniel is cucumber cool, adept in socially murky situations and always knows just what to do. He’s a stalwart ally and handy to have around, yet of course is only a facet of Luke’s own fragile mind… or is he? That’s where the film gets really fun and not so easy to pin down. Daniel is only a friend when things go his way, and when the hereditary tentacles of illness plaguing his mother come for Luke as well, things get downright scary. Daniel becomes reckless, selfish, sociopathic and wholly destructive, especially when Luke meets a feisty art major (Sasha Lane) he has genuine feelings for. I don’t want to reveal to much because this is so much more than just what you read in synopses as far as premise goes. This is deep, philosophical filmmaking full of dark psychological unrest, chilling ambiguity and disturbing metaphysical implications that still have me pondering the overall experience over a week later. There are some truly soul disturbing visuals once things get hallucinatory and otherworldly for the characters, made real by terrifying practical effects that look like something straight out of a literal nightmare. There are elements that reminded me of SyFy’s brilliant anthology series Channel Zero in terms of unconventional, cerebral storytelling that takes what could have been a run of the mill horror concept and elevates it to stratospheric heights using form, sound, menacing visual abstractions and unfiltered artistic expression to plant us into a world we won’t soon forget. I could not recommend this film enough to people who enjoy challenging, unabashedly dark meta-psychological horror and lots of it.

-Nate Hill

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