Movies about mental illness always make me cringe. You already know going in that things are going to go south – it’s just a waiting game. ‘Daniel Isn’t Real’ doesn’t bring anything knew to the genre, but this coming-of-age microbudget film is downright uncomfortable for all the right reasons.
We’re introduced to Luke (Miles Robbins) at a young age, and during a moment of grisly violence he unfortunately witnesses. It’s during this neighborhood crime that Luke first “meets” Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Whether Daniel arrives to help Luke deal with this gruesome crime, or for other reasons, we never really find out.
Daniel is helpful at first, playing innocently with Luke, and it’s only a matter of time before Luke’s mentally ill mother forbids her son from hanging with Daniel. We never really learn why, but Daniel is “locked” inside his grandmother’s Victorian dollhouse. It’s many years before Luke’s personal Tyler Durden shows back up. When he does, things get weird, tense, and of course violent.
What follows is an effective Daniel versus Luke story that even made me cringe. Daniel’s strong personality quickly overtakes Luke in his day to day life, which includes a violent sex life and rampant cruelty at every turn. ‘Daniel Isn’t Real has amazing practical effects that merge seamlessly with the CG elements. I’m pretty hardcore about what gets under my skin, but there are truly gruesome visual images to contend with.
This is best not spoiled, so I’ll wrap it up. Writers Brian DeLeeuw and Adam Egypt Mortimer skillfully deliver an engaging tale of mental illness, especially adept at presenting the struggle and duality between Luke and Daniel. Mortimer also directs and creates a tense and chilling atmosphere for Luke’s impending struggle. I’m happy to rate this a solid B+.
This film is available via theaters, VOD, and digital December 6th.