A troubled college freshman, Luke, suffers a violent family trauma. He then resurrects his charismatic childhood imaginary friend Daniel to help him cope, not realizing how dangerous Daniel is.
Directed by: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Release Date: December 6, 2019 (USA) | Rating: 18+ | Genre: Horror/Suspense | Source: Shudder Trailer: https://youtu.be/bX80xLVy2Gc
Daniel Isn’t Real Review
Luke’s story begins in his childhood. His parents are fighting and it sounds like they are breaking up. Luke wanders out of their home to escape the shouting. He stumbles across a traumatizing scene. A man had entered a restaurant and shot several people. Luke is staring at a body lying in the doorway when another boy comes up to him and asks if he wants to play.
We soon realize that Luke’s new friend, Daniel, isn’t real. At least, he isn’t flesh and blood. Daniel can see him but his mother can’t. He sounds just like the typical imaginary friend that many children have when they are young.
But when Daniel encourages Luke to do something bad, his mother tells him that Daniel must go away. Daniel is locked inside a dollhouse and forgotten for many years.
It’s easy to believe that Daniel is a figment of Luke’s imagination. His mother has mental health issues and isn’t taking her medication. Luke’s dad is gone. He is isolated and friendless. He also first saw Daniel after a traumatic experience. The story gives viewers every reason to believe that Daniel is a coping mechanism Luke has created.
Years later, Luke is dealing with more trauma. Daniel returns, and Luke’s life changes dramatically.
This movie has a lot of good qualities. Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger play Luke and Daniel, respectively. They both do a great job in their roles. I believed Robbins as both the awkward, isolated Luke and the sociable, fun-loving Luke that emerges later. Schwarzenegger is believable as both a friend and a foe. Robbins also interacts credibly with Mary Stuart Masterson, who plays his mentally ill mother. The entire cast is solid and believable in their roles.
Ultimately, what Luke must decide is what he believes in, what his values are. He is a smart young man, and begins to suspect that Daniel is evil. Perhaps spending his life living with a mentally ill mother has equipped him to face his problems; perhaps it’s because he is a responsible young man. Either way, Luke doesn’t run away from the situation. He tackles it head on. He is determined to find both answers and solutions.
Daniel also has range. He starts off as a simple friend. He is at times mischievous and fun, and even seems caring. At other times he is deranged, violent and dangerous.
Much of this movie is anchored in the real world. That works very well as the viewer is trying to decide if Daniel is an imaginary friend, an alternate personality, a ghost, a demon or something else.
Occasionally, the movie uses some weak special effects to suggest Daniel may be an evil force. In my opinion, these scenes felt disjointed and didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie. They do look better on the small screen than your TV. They also felt a little heavy-handed, like they were inserted as a way to make what Daniel was blatantly obvious to the viewer. There were other scenes that effectively demonstrated enough for us to narrow down what Daniel was, and whether or not he was a real threat to Luke and those Luke cared about.
Although I must admit, I find myself wondering how Daniel could be confined to the dollhouse if he was what he ultimately seemed to be. But that didn’t deter me from enjoying the movie in the moment.
There’s a lot of potential inDaniel Isn’t Real, centered in the solid performances of the cast, and the concept is strong. The on-the-nose scenes with cheesy special effects are what keeps this movie from receiving a starred review.