A troubled college freshman named Luke (Miles Robbins) resurrects his imaginary friend Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) to help him cope with a violent trauma.
Daniel Isn’t Real is an absurdly weird movie. It is a movie that is filled with imagery and scenes that don’t really make any sense when you first look at them, and even some that just don’t make sense at all. Sometimes, these moments can make for some memorable sequences upon reflection of the film as a whole. The first shot of this film is honestly jaw-droppingly beautiful, weird, confusing, and hypnotic all at the same time, as is a large portion of the cinematography and use of visuals.
But, sometimes, when a film relies too heavily on its style and not too much on its style, we get something known as “style over substance”, which is exactly what Daniel Isn’t Real is, sadly. This film’s concept is honestly great, and it is an idea that I never knew I wanted until now. There are glimmers of greatness in Adam Egypt Mortimer’s latest feature, yet it is too often undercut by a strangely jarring and messy story that is never quite sure of what it wants to be.
Some part of this movie wants to be a strangely mysterious coming-of-age tale, akin to Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko. Yet there is another part that wants to be a deep dive into mental illness and it rides this line in a strange way. There were a few times where this movie was genuinely interesting and it was exciting to see where everything would go, but it never really goes anywhere.
The acting, however, is quite good, although it is nothing exceptional. The best performance in Daniel Isn’t Real comes from our lead Miles Robbins, who portrays main character Luke. He is a character you can get behind and I am hoping to see more of him in the future, as he has been good in every single movie that I have seen him in. Schwarzenegger as Luke’s imaginary friend Daniel is also quite good, and really creepy whenever he needs to be. Frequently we will see Daniel in the background of the majority of this film’s shots and sometimes it makes for a delightfully creepy shot.
It also boasts an exceptionally strong score from Chris Clark, whose music here really elevates some of the more intense scenes in the film. It is also shot well, as I touched upon earlier. Lyle Vincent’s cinematography here can be full of greatly interesting shot structures, visuals, and use of lighting.
On a technical level, this movie is actually impressive and really strong. It is just that the story here is so messy and jumbled that it can be incredibly hard to get invested in. This movie tries to be too many things at once and unfortunately fails at a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong, this movie was not a chore to watch. There was never a moment where I was begging for Daniel Isn’t Real to be over. It is just that there was plenty of scenes where I couldn’t help but get sucked out of due to a jumbled script.
Additionally, I found the first act to be extremely rushed. We spend only a few small scenes with Luke as a young boy (portrayed by Griffin Robert Faulkner) and it would have been nice to have seen a little bit more of Luke’s life as a child. In these scenes that we do get, we understand that Luke’s imaginary friend Daniel has caused a great deal of trouble and distress on his mother, and I wish we could have seen more of this.
Daniel Isn’t Real is strong in its technical efforts, but it suffers greatly from a messy script and a story that isn’t sure of what it wants to be.
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