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DANIEL ISN’T REAL ****

Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer.

Starring Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane. Horror, USA, 96 mins.

Released in UK Cinemas by Arrow on 7th February 2020.

 

Imaginary friends return from the past to wreak havoc in Adam Egypt Mortimer’s wildly imaginative second feature. It is a trope that has been seen several times before, notably the somehow fondly remembered DROP DEAD FRED, but Mortimer elevates the proceedings to far greater and loftier levels here by examining the evergreen issues of co-dependence and toxic friendship and infusing them with a hefty dollop of cosmic horror that has rarely been displayed on screen before.

 

Ordered to lock away his imaginary friend in a doll house, trust me, it makes perfect sense when you watch it, Luke, Miles Robbins, now fully grown and struggling with the pressures of university and his mother’s own mental issues is encouraged by his psychiatrist to release the mischievous Daniel, now also fully grown, suave, sophisticated and carrying a sinister agenda that threatens to overwhelm Luke in body and soul.

 

Visually striking from the first frame the film opens with a startling outburst of violence at a diner then proceeds to take in vast castles, underground caverns, nightmarish subways and Hieronymous Bosch like demons. It is an intoxicating mix further bolstered by its sharp script, co-written by Brian Deleeuw adapting his novel In This Way I Was Saved, a source material wildly different than what has ended up on the screen. As Daniel’s influence and control over the sensitive Luke intensifies in more disturbing ways toxic masculinity as well as mental illness are examined here but in a way that never comes across as shallow or to be used as a shaky crutch to hang its premise on.

 

As Luke and Daniel respectively, Miles Robbins, son of Tim, and Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold, make for an enticing double act in much the same way as Brad Pitt and Ed Norton did in the similarly themed FIGHT CLUB. It takes a lot to avoid comparisons to one of the biggest stars in cinema and while some shots in profile of him are uncannily reminiscent of THE TERMINATOR, the younger Schwarzenneger effortlessly steps out of his fathers shadow with a performance that ranges from goofy to dandyish to malevolently threatening. Robbins also acquits himself well with a sympathetic portrayal of a young man in turmoil and Sasha Lane, as Cassie, a refreshingly unpretentious artist who befriends Luke also does well with her gutsy and take no nonsense attitude, particularly in her scenes in standing up to Daniel.

 

Mortimer confidently presents a unique vision unlike anything else this year. Although there are nods to JACOB’S LADDER in glimpses of subterranean creatures that may or may not be real and one particular instance of stretchy body horror reminiscent of Brian Yuzna’s SOCIETY the resulting film comes across as one of the more original features in the genre for some time. It is a potent mix of horror, fantasy, psychological thriller and transgressive buddy movie that will no doubt go onto gain its own wildly appreciative cult audience in the years to come. If the opportunity arises see it on as big a screen as you can when released. It is an exciting step forward for its cast and especially Mortimer in seeing what he can achieve next.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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