Cast: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Hannah Marks
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
If The Art of Self-Defense had the irony and absurdism of Fight Club, then Daniel Isn’t Real has the horror and understanding of the mental illness portion of Fight Club. Something about these small independent horror movies has really got my blood pumping this year and made me really want to start seeking out movies like this. I think the smaller budget really forces the directors into this world of creativity that other major studios don’t necessarily rely on as much. Through its brutal depiction of schizophrenia and a stunning performance by Schwarzenegger, Daniel Isn’t Real seems like a fairly straightforward horror movie at first, but over the course of 100 minutes we watch a young man’s life completely fall apart because of things he can’t control.
The film follows Luke (Robbins), a shy timid college boy who is dealing with the stresses of life and the demons from his past. When he was younger, Luke used to have an imaginary friend named Daniel that he would confine in and use as a resource for his stress, but he had to lock Daniel away after a dangerous incident. Now that he’s brought Daniel (Schwarzenegger) back, he experiences both the fantastic positives and the horrifying consequences of Daniel’s decision-making when he takes over. While Robbins is solid enough in the lead to carry the movie, the performance by Schwarzenegger as the antagonist has the opportunity to be career-changing for him. His father started off his career in heavy roles like in The Terminator before becoming one of the great action stars of a generation, and while this role may not be as high-profile as his father’s, if Schwarzenegger keeps this up I can easily see him landing a role in a major film or as the villain of a franchise. Schwarzenegger demonstrates full-body acting in a way that I very rarely see someone do this and through his facial and physical reactions. When an actor can shift from smiling and enjoying his moment of glory to going into a fit of rage over the smallest thing, it shows a level of talent that should explored and showcased on the biggest stage possible. I don’t know exactly what Schwarzenegger has planned in the future, but I hope he gets his opportunity to do something big down the line. While Schwarzenegger may be the shining jewel of the movie, the movie still breaks through due to its ability to take abstract ideas and break them down in a way where anyone watching can understand them. We don’t know whether or not Daniel is something supernatural or if it’s a portion of Luke’s twisted mind for most of the movie, and that’s what helps it work out so well. When a movie like Daniel Isn’t Real can take difficult and complex concepts whether they are real or not and turn them into something digestible, understandable, and to a degree relatable, then what you end up with is one of the best independent horror movies of the year.
Overall, Daniel Isn’t Real doesn’t have a ton of huge names attached to it, but I think that helps make it more real. I’m glad there are still studios out there that allow up-and-coming directors to explore their minds and write creative movies like this, as Daniel Isn’t Real may be one of the keystone projects of the year for smaller studios. Daniel Isn’t Real has a very film school feel to it, but at the same time it captures the essence of the supernatural world and frames it in a way where it is still scary but much more understandable.
Overall Score: 8.5/10