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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Daniel Isn’t Real’ (2019)

6 min read
The idea of mental illness being presented as an alter ego is nothing new, but how they handle it was remarkably nuanced. Daniel is a completely developed character, much as one would expect an 'imaginary friend' to be. And like a proper alter ego, has a serious dark side.

Best Friends Forever, a horror…

On the surface of this movie is a pretty solid story about mental illness, having to live through being raised by someone with mental illness, and discovering you may have inherited that mental illness. I talked about this in my review of They Look Like People (2015). From the inside of the mind of mental illness, the world is already a horror story. There is already plenty of heartache having to watch someone go through that, only to discover you might have inherited it.

The main character Luke (played by Miles Robins) is already in therapy, having lived through the trauma of being raised by his schizophrenic mother. Through this, he recalls having an imaginary friend, Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger), and coupled with a few other concerns, begins to worry that he might be schizophrenic as well. We discover Daniel tried to convince Luke to kill his mother when they were children. After surviving it, Luke’s mother prompts him to get rid of Daniel. Luke locks his imaginary friend in a dollhouse, never to be heard from again. Not entirely unlike the movie Drop Dead Fred (1991), which honestly had a lot of the same themes.

My only problem with the plot is that the therapist basically asks Luke to resurrect Daniel. It smacks as unrealistically, quaky nonsense, hopelessly masquerading as therapy. However, it’s a minor sin, and we have to get to the plot eventually.

I have to also say, the acting in this movie is fucking incredible. Even Patrick Schwarzenegger is incredible. You might be worried that he only got the job because of his father Arnold, and that he’d ham it up if the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. You’d be dead wrong as Patrick turns out to be ten times the actor his father ever was. That’s something Arny can be deeply proud of. No matter how Patrick got to where he is, he flat-fucking-out deserves to be there. I hope to sees more of him in the future and I seriously hope he sticks to horror and thriller.

I have to also say, the cinematography and practical FX we fucking solid. The use of color and filters were exceptionally powerful, differentiating from when Daniel is in control and when Luke is in control (dark and light). At one point, Daniel completely takes over and the melding scene was a fantastic piece of body horror.

The idea of mental illness being presented as an alter ego is nothing new, but how they handle it was remarkably nuanced. Daniel is a completely developed character, much as one would expect an ‘imaginary friend’ to be. And like a proper alter ego, has a serious dark side. He’s reminiscent of Tyler Durden, only Luke is very aware that he’s imaginary.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. I consider it a ‘must watch.’ The story is seriously dark, the likes of American Mary (2012) or Excision (2012), but it’s so fascinating, I can easily recommend it to general adult audiences.


SPOILERS!!!

Daniel is real… The movie is initially set up as a psychological thriller between a man and his imaginary friend but falls firmly into supernatural horror when you find out Daniel is in fact, an ancient demon trying to find himself a new body. Apparently, Daniel use to be a sort of muse, a spirit of creation that would help the individuals he attached himself to. However, he got sick of being a casual observer and tried to take his last host over completely. The former host commits suicide, and Daniel is forced to jump to the next available host, Luke.

What starts as a fascinating tale of a mentally ill individual confronting his inner demons, seamlessly transitions into a possession story about a man fighting a literal demon. Daniel eventually takes Luke completely over and locks him in dimension to essentially be spiritually digested.

The best part is the climactic ending where Luke confronts Daniel in epic fashion.

I seriously can’t recommend this movie enough. Please give this a watch.

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