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  Daniel Isn't Real Imaginary EnemyBuy this film here.
Year: 2019
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Stars: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Mary Stuart Masterson, Hannah Marks, Chukwudi Iwuji, Peter McRobbie, Andrew Bridges, Griffin Robert Faulkner, Nathan Chandler Reid, Daniel Marconi, Chase Sui Wonders, Rosanne Ma, Katie Chang
Genre: Horror, Weirdo
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: When Luke (Miles Robbins) was a little boy, one day he watched in secret as his mother Claire (Mary Stuart Masterson) had a full-on, throwing crockery argument with his father, who was out of the door and out of their lives swiftly after. Feeling understandably abandoned and confused, Luke wandered out of the family home and into the street, where he stumbled upon a crowd gawping at a crime scene; though he did not quite comprehend what had occurred, he was struck by the corpse of a young woman lying bloodied in the doorway of a diner. Suddenly, someone was beside him: Daniel, who fast became his best friend, except that only Luke could see him, so he can't have been real...

This was the genre follow-up to the director and co-writers' debut horror feature Some Kind of Hate, which operated on similar, imaginary friend lines, though in that the companion who got out of hand was a ghost. Here, the titular Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger in the character's adult form) was a matter of conjecture: he might be all in Luke's head as a symptom of his psychosis, then again perhaps all the therapy and medication in the world is no use if the demons in your head are actually external and very real. This balancing act was neatly sustained throughout, so that even as the plot moved into its grand finale you were unsure of where it was going to land, with reality winning or not.

This ran the risk of being tiresome, with a wavering conception of the hero's existence so difficult to pin down you half expected it to conclude with a shot of him standing in the street ranting to himself as passersby gave him a wide berth. In essence, it was the nineteen-nineties comedy Drop Dead Fred played out as a serious chiller, a rich vein of imaginary friendship that succeeded better than Rik Mayall messing about with Phoebe Cates's levels of embarrassment, though in effect that was what was happening in Daniel Isn't Real. Perhaps there was only one path to tread when it came to this kind of material, the shame that certain aspects of childhood cannot be left behind in the adult phase.

That said, Daniel was not a childish character, indeed he had very adult needs, including a sex drive that appears to be satisfied, to a degree at least, when he can bolster Luke into sexual conquests. There are two women in their lives they have their eyes on, one, artist Cassie (Sasha Lane) who has an inkling there is something not quite right going on in Luke's head, but finds that an attraction rather than a warning, and Sophie (Hannah Marks), a fellow student who comes on all edgy and worldly, but is not so edgy that she appreciates it when Daniel dominates and indulges in rough sex and eventual violence. Yes, it was the split personality yarn once again, horror thrived on musing over the duality of its characters from Dr Jekyll to The Wolf Man and far beyond, but there were further layers divined here.

Maybe not in the utmost clarity, and the emphasis on mental illness proved to be a Trojan Horse, both for those around Luke and the audience watching, which kind of threw away a very pointed performance by Masterson who delivered a convincing portrayal of a woman who is a danger to herself and possibly others, but was not permitted to develop it as much when her screen son was the focus. Nevertheless, Robbins was a resonantly pathetic soul in amongst this lunacy, which unsurprisingly from the producers of Nicolas Cage goes nuts fest Mandy took a similar approach to the wilder and wilder imagery. Not many tales of a mental breakdown go as far as bringing about an apocalypse, as if the cracked personality was akin to a splitting of an atom, but that was what Adam Egypt Mortimer and Brian DeLeeuw (adapting the latter's novel) took it upon themselves to commit to, with impressively disquieting imagery on what must have been a fairly modest budget. The atmosphere of doom was its main strength, the performances contributed to that. Music by Clark.

[DANIEL ISN'T REAL will be released in UK Cinemas 7th February 2020, and on Blu-ray and Digital HD on 10th February 2020.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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