If this were the ’90s, ‘Daniel Isn’t Real’ would be one of those films you stumble upon in the video store and then tell all your friends about. An unknown entity peppered with body horror, angsty drama and lots of sharp edges, director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s ambitious little film has allusions to ‘Fight Club’ and ‘The Shining’, and keeps you guessing until the third act.
When Luke (Miles Robbins) witnesses a shooting as a child, he conjures up an imaginary friend to feel better. But when said invisible sidekick – the ‘Daniel’ of the title – convinces the little boy to give his single mum (Mary Stuart Masterson) an overdose of her antidepressants, the playmate is locked away inside the family’s spooky doll’s house and forgotten about.
Cue a passing of time that sees Luke head off to college and his mother sectioned as she struggles with her mental health. When the young man goes to see a shrink to see if he might inherit her condition, his psychiatrist unwisely advises he unlock his stifled imagination and reconnect with it.
Patrick Schwarzenegger does his best Patrick Bateman as the charismatic and cold Daniel, but Sasha Lane (‘American Honey’) steals the show as Cassie, the art student who falls for Luke but not the darkness within him.
The film is at its most fun when it keeps us guessing – is Daniel a demon or a figment of Luke’s troubled psyche? It is only when it attempts to settle on one answer that things get a lot more predictable. All in all, an enjoyable addition to the genre.