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David House [Celluloid 12.04.19] horror thriller drama

Daniel Isn't Real is Adam Egypt Mortimer's second feature film. His debut in 2015 was the bloody and gory horror/revenge film Some Kind Of Hate (review) which although it received mixed reviews, showed great promise. This time he's brought us a well-made thriller which opens with fantasy elements that descends into full-blown horror in the final half hour.

The startling violent opening to the film shows 6-year-old Luke witnessing a crime scene in his neighbourhood; the aftermath of a mass shooting in a cafe. Here, while staring at the carnage, he meets another young boy, Daniel. The two of them begin talking and wander off together. When Luke's distraught mother finds him in the park she discovers her traumatized son talking to his imaginary friend Daniel, she plays along telling him sure, he can invite his new friend home to play with him.

The lonely little boy is overjoyed to have someone to play fight with, using brooms as swords, and Daniel becomes his inseparable buddy. However as time goes on, Daniel encourages Luke into naughtier, more mischievous and eventually, dangerously harmful behaviour. After narrowly avoiding a tragedy from poisoning his own mother, Luke manages to lock his imaginary friend away in a dollhouse.

The film now moves forward to a time when Luke is in college and his delusional mother has been institutionalized because of her mental illness. Luke is feeling stressed and fears that he is destined to follow his mother into depression and schizophrenia. He starts to see a therapist and visits his mother to try and help her. As he's starting to lose his inner battle, his imaginary friend Daniel returns to his life and starts to stir things up big time.

The acting in the film is top-notch. Miles Robbins is great as the sensitive Luke. Patrick Schwarzenegger (son of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger), is terrific in his completely over-the-top portrayal of the manic Daniel; Sasha Lane is perfectly cast as Luke's avant-garde artist friend. The film has excellent music, sound and colourful psychedelic visual effects. Although it seemed to veer into the supernatural towards the end, it's actually a film about mental illness and demons for much of the journey; well portrayed and thought-provoking.

Daniel Isn't Real opens theatrically and is available on VOD December 6.

If you're ready for a film with a lighter treatment of the "imaginary friend" concept, I highly recommend HARVEY, 1950.

Recommended Release: Harvey

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