Daniel Isn’t Real

Review by Anton Bitel @AntBit

Directed by

Adam Egypt Mortimer

Starring

Miles Robbins Patrick Schwarzenegger Sasha Lane

Anticipation.

Liked Adam Egypt Mortimer’s debut, Some Kind of Hate.

Enjoyment.

Woah! Disorienting, disturbing, magisterial.

In Retrospect.

This schizophrenic buddy pic is the real deal.

A traumatised man summons his former imaginary friend in Adam Egypt Mortimer’s knotty psychological thriller.

It is all in the title. Lots of films – which won’t be named here to avoid spoiling – only reveal the imaginary nature of a character’s ‘invisible friend’ as a Big Twist™ right at the climax. Yet we know from the very outset of Adam Egypt Mortimer’s second feature (co-written, as with his 2015 debut Some Kind of Hate, with novelist Brian de Leeuw) that, well, Daniel isn’t real.

Rather, he is conjured as a playmate, confidante and guide by the lonely young Luke (Griffin Robert Faulkner) at a moment when he is having to deal not only with the breakup of his parents and the breakdown of his schizophrenic mother Claire (Mary Stuart Masterson), but also with the trauma of witnessing an arbitrary act of extreme violence. A sly, cocky troublemaker, Daniel (Nathan Reid) plays id to Luke’s ego, until Luke, led dangerously astray, is forced to lock this part of himself away.

In other words, the genre apparatus of demonology and body horror in Daniel Isn’t Real is expressly a figment of the adult Luke’s unravelling subjectivity, as we see his emerging mental illness taking over from the inside. Now aged 19 (and played by Miles Robbins), Luke must again face Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) who returns from his hiding place to reawaken Luke’s long-repressed creative, confident, chaotic side, all with tragic results.

In keeping with the manic interiority of its narrative, Daniel Isn’t Real is an overwhelming sensory experience, deeply disorienting and increasingly distressing. Adult Luke is first seen sitting on a literal edge, and from then on he occupies a metaphorical one too, constantly at odds with himself and staring, even falling, into the abyss – all thanks to a delusion that is very real.

Published 7 Feb 2020

Tags: Adam Egypt Mortimer Griffin Robert Faulkner Patrick Schwarzenegger

Anticipation.

Liked Adam Egypt Mortimer’s debut, Some Kind of Hate.

Enjoyment.

Woah! Disorienting, disturbing, magisterial.

In Retrospect.

This schizophrenic buddy pic is the real deal.

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