Thursday, 13 February 2020

DANIEL ISN'T REAL review

Now in cinemas and on VOD, Daniel Isn't Real sees Miles Robbins' Luke reconnect with his childhood friend, Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger). An encouraging but also toxic influence on Luke's life, Daniel pushes Luke into dangerous situations that he may not be able to come back from. Oh, also Daniel Isn't Real.



After a brief introduction to them as children where prankster Daniel arrives like a 21st century Drop Dead Fred before being locked away in a creepy doll's house (the result of trying to kill Luke's mother with an overdose of pills), the story picks up proper with Luke, now as a young man, trying to navigate his way in life whilst also caring for his sick mother (Mary Stuart Masterson). As his mother is institutionalised, he is advised by his psychiatrist to face whatever is haunting him from his past, leading to the re-emergence of his "imaginary" best friend, Daniel.

The temptation to liken Daniel Isn't Real to Fight Club is obvious, and there's clearly something of a demented Tyler Durden in Schwarzenegger's Daniel; all cocksure, confident and cool as fuck. He is everything Luke thinks he wants to be. But the film has more in common with the grimy, psycho-sexual world of Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case, the less-than-subtle conjoined twin shocker from the early '80s. In this, Daniel is Luke's very own Belial - a caged, impotent, rage-filled being, desperate to have the life his other half has.

Miles Robbins, first seen in Blockers and other supporting roles in Halloween (2018) and The Day Shall Come, has largely focused on comedic roles so far, but with his boyish looks he was destined for a lead role in a teen horror film (if that's what this is), and even bears something of a resemblance to Frank Henenlotter's lead from Frankenhooker, James Lorinz. His Luke is a likeable everyman character, and his pursuit of a romance with Sasha Lane's Cassie gives the film a much needed sweet side. Cassie is essentially an updated Marla Singer with a trendy boho loft apartment meets artist space, asking Luke important questions like "do you ever feel like you have no idea who you are?" at a modern art gallery before they destroy the art they find contemptible. In a film that is essentially about toxic masculinity against other men, Lane's character might struggle for screen time but is still the best she's been since American Honey.

As the flip side to Luke's character, Patrick Schwarzenegger's Daniel is the cooler, more attractive part of him, but also is a voyeuristic control freak, watching on as a romantic moment between Luke and Cassie turns into sex. Daniel is the incel inside who wants these moments for himself, eventually leading to a passing of conscience that gives Daniel an opportunity to act out his desires for sex and violence. Any questions you had about whether Daniel is just a part of Luke's psyche or a manifestation of something evil, allowing Luke to act how he really wants to act, are put to bed here; and this passing of conscience is in itself something near sexual, as Luke and Daniel's faces meld together before they break away, gasping.

As the good looking prankster Daniel, it's a strong turn from Schwarzenegger. Still on the verge of breaking out as a star of his own from under the weight of that surname, he's got the arrogance the son of the Austrian Oak and a member of the Kennedy clan should have. It's a great piece of casting that should act as a calling card for him going forward in his career.

As you might expect from SpectreVision, the production company who also gave us Panos Cosmatos' Mandy, there's a psychotropic quality to director Adam Egypt Mortimer's visuals that really work well for this film's big ideas. On top of some nasty body horror (there's that Henenlotter influence again), the film takes a trip into a nightmarish mind prison that's part Hellraiser and part A Nightmare on Elm Street, but also something completely different.

Daniel Isn't Real might owe a debt to some genre fare that has come before it, but it's a film packed full of ideas, and thankfully, most of them work.

Verdict
4/5

DANIEL ISN’T REAL will be released in UK Cinemas 7th February 2020, and on Blu-ray and Digital HD on 10th February 2020. For cinemas visit: https://www.ourscreen.com/film/Daniel-Isnt-Real
Order via iTunes here: https://apple.co/2FugjAo

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