2019 • USA • 96 min.
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Screenwriter: Brian DeLeeuw, Adam Egypt Mortimer
Cast: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sahsa Lane, Mary Stuart Masterson
October 20, 2019 @ 8:30 pm
Having an imaginary friend as a child is pretty commonplace. But what is pedestrian for kids becomes downright dissociative as an adult. For young Luke, he befriends Daniel shortly after escaping one traumatic event only to witness something even more traumatic. Daniel is Luke’s id, playful to the point of recklessness, and when Daniel’s pranks become outright malicious, Daniel is banished to Luke’s mother’s dollhouse. Locked away where he can do no harm. But Daniel didn’t disappear as Luke aged. He’s been there in the dollhouse. All alone. Waiting for the college-aged Luke to return home and unlock his cage.
If this sounds a bit like Drop Dead Fred, that’s where the similarities to the goofy 90s comedy ends, but that’s not to suggest the film is bereft of humor. As the title suggests, Daniel Isn’t Real doesn’t ever try to trick the audience into thinking Daniel is a real person. But is he the dark side of Luke’s personality? A pure figment of his imagination? Is he a distinct identity inside Luke’s compartmentalized brain, or is he a Black Lodge-like spirit, possessing his victims? Director/co-writer Adam Egypt Mortimer (Some Kind of Hate) keeps this ambiguous throughout. When fellow art student Cassie takes a mutual romantic interest in Luke, things get very complicated between Luke and Daniel for sure.
Starting off with a literal bang, Daniel Isn’t Real touches on topics such as mental illness, isolation, therapy and sensuality seamlessly, and does so with a rich tapestry of unsettling visual elements. Newcomers Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger (yes, Arnold’s son) are effortlessly engaging as Luke and Daniel, respectively, as is American Honey’s Sasha Lane as Cassie. Veteran Mary Stuart Masterson rounds out the main cast as Luke’s beleaguered mom. Daniel Isn’t Real is a scary, sexy and exhilarating ride.
Goodbye Old Friend
Rafael De Leon, Jr., USA, 6 min.
A young woman is trapped in her apartment by her childhood imaginary friend, who has come back to haunt her.