Horror has become a great place to examine and discuss a variety of topics such as mental health. Sure, you get a lot of dramas that talk about people’s declining mental health or issues with mental health, but you never quite get the same sort of desperate and scary look as you do with horror. At its heart DANIEL ISN’T REAL is a film about mental illness and the horror of its inheritance.
DANIEL ISN’T REAL is the story of Luke, an average looking kid whose parents’ marriage is falling apart around him. When he stumbles into a horrifying act of violence, he develops an imaginary friend as a self defense mechanism to help him deal with all of his trauma. The trouble is that his friend, Daniel, starts to show violent tendencies and dangerous ideas so Luke, with the help of his mother, banishes his friend. When his trauma starts to resurface as a young adult in college Luke’s therapist suggests that perhaps he needs to re-connect with Daniel in order to come to terms with his trauma and damage. The trouble though is that Daniel has had a lot of time to stew on his banishment and his dangerous tendencies haven’t lessened but have gotten even more dangerous and may swallow Luke whole.
This a really well made and well shot film. There’s a lot of colors, a heap of intensity, and you definitely get the understanding that Daniel is dangerous. The director has an eye for interesting shots and there’s a really interesting turn planted in the film that keeps things on unsteady ground. My issue though is that it’s all too exaggerated. Daniel never feels like a ‘good’ friend but a caricature, like someone trying to pretend to be Tyler Durden. It’s all coolness with no substance and for me, the allure of Daniel wouldn’t be that he’s brave but that he’s also more fully rounded than Luke, as if he’s more of a person that Luke can manage to offer. What we get though is someone we immediately don’t trust and who brings out the ugliness in Luke. There’s no real subtlety there. This movie is interested in the turn, which is fine, but ended up leaving me cold to everything in the movie. It’s a film about extremes and while it starts to get into some really interesting territory it never fully goes all in and leaves much of the psychological trauma behind as it focuses on the horror over the trauma.
This is a well-made film. It’s well acted, even though there are no shades here but just degrees of blacks and whites. I can see why the movie got people excited as the director has a steady hand and a sure view. It’s not a bad movie but it’s just not something that connected with me at all. There’s some great ideas but the film focuses completely on that turn and leaves the subtle horror that had been hinted at behind. There was a chilling, disturbing movie here that could only have been enhanced by that turn but unfortunately, it’s the note movie we have.
2 out of 5