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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Review: Daniel Isn't Real

Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Screenplay: Adam Egypt Mortimer and Brian Deleeuw
Year: 2019

Psychological illnesses open many opportunities in a horror movie by being horrific by nature and by offering a distorted vision of the real world. If to this you add up a supernatural and mysterious aspect, they can be the ingredients for an intriguing plot. “Daniel Isn't Real” capitalizes upon both topics combining mental health with supernatural horror.

After a traumatic event when he was a child, Luke creates an imaginary friend named Daniel, who helps him cope with the situation. After the influence of Daniel led Luke to make some dangerous stuff, he locks away Daniel and continues his life without him. Once in his adulthood, another traumatic event sets Daniel free, who again starts by being a help to cope with the event, but whose influence becomes more and more dangerous. 

Director Adam Egypt Mortimer (“Some Kind of Hate”) in his second feature evokes praise for cinema classics such as “Donnie Darko” and “Fight Club”, that is palpable since the first minutes. Especially the comparison with “Donnie Darko” is timely as there are many similarities between Luke and Donnie. The first of these similarities is how they both struggle with their mental illnesses, both suggestive of schizophrenia, and how both have a distorted image of their environment and situations.

In the case of Donnie, he sees a world in which traveling through time and space is possible, while Luke sees a friend that helps him take decisions and to stand out in different scenarios. Slowly, this friendship starts becoming more aggressive at the same time that Daniel starts suggesting more dangerous stuff. The character of Daniel is highlighted thanks to the magnificent interpretation by Patrick Schwarzenegger (“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”), but his dichotomy with Luke is not more evident because of Miles Robbins’ (“Halloween”) interpretation, that without being bad, it’s not at the same level as that of Schwarzenegger. 

Mortimer, who also writes the clever script along with Brian Deleeuw, author of the novel in which it is based (“In This Way I Was Saved”), makes the most out of the psychological scenario and the freedom it offers to explore audiovisual concepts. The most interesting one is the use of vivid colors in a dark and eerie frame that emphasizes the bold character of Daniel and how the different levels of human thought are mixed. Later he goes to the unnerving plane, where he uses well-crafted disturbing imagery that goes hand in hand with the association of the distorted world where Luke’s mind inhabits.

“Daniel Isn’t Real” is an interesting approach to mental health and has its good share of surprises to make it different from other movies in this topic. Based around the character Luke and his counterpart Daniel, the movie offers a character study where it goes deep into the darkness of the human mind, especially one that has been distorted by a psychological condition. “Daniel Isn’t Real” is an excellent movie that raises the bar high for Mortimer's next project, who seems to be improving the quality of his movies with time.

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