Daniel Isn’t Real: Trippy but very creepy

Review: Schwarzenegger makes for an imposing shadow to Robbins’ hapless hero

Daniel Isn't Real
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Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Cert: Club
Genre: Horror
Starring: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Mary Stuart Masterson, Hannah Marks, Chukwudi Iwuji, Peter McRobbie
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins

Maybe it's a post Black Mirror (and Jordan Peele's Twilight Zone) effect. But there's a welcome vogue for trippy psych-outs like Marjorie Prime and Gigantic in the indie sector. Adam Egypt Mortimer's horror thriller fits the bill, while being its own very creepy thing. Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger – two Hollywood scions - play a troubled young man and his increasingly sinister imaginary friend.

We’re introduced to Luke (Griffin Robert Faulkner), as a sensitive and lonely eight-year-old boy who, upon witnessing the aftermath of a mass shooting, is befriended by Daniel (Nathan Chandler Reid). Nobody else can see or hear Luke’s new chum, but it seems like a harmless enough invention until Daniel suggests they do something awful to Luke’s emotionally unbalanced mother Claire (Mary Stuart Masterson). Consequently, Claire suggests that her son visualises Daniel in an old family dollhouse and there he remains until adulthood, when an imposed grown-up Daniel (Schwarzenegger) returns from the Freudian depths to protect a fragile Luke (Miles Robbins). Suddenly, Luke has a lot more swagger and two love interests, including conceptual artist Cassie (Sasha Lane) and fellow student Sophie (Hannah Marks). Daniel, however, is becoming increasingly dominant in their shared body. (The film is from the producers of Mandy, so you can be certain of something more high-fallutin’ than Basket Case 2). But just as though it looks like the id is about to stage a coup, a troubling Oedipal subplot adds a strange, disconcerting new dimension and Cronenbergian body horror SFX, both of the practical and CG kind.

Adam Egypt Mortimer’s second feature – co-written with novelist Brian DeLeeuw – offers a novel convergence of mental health issues, toxic masculinity and occultish vibes. Interior states are imaginatively realised to Chris Clark’s retro score. Schwarzenegger makes for an imposing and sinisterly charming shadow to Robbins’ hapless hero. There’s such excellent support from Lane, Marks and Stuart, one wishes they had more screen time.

Opens on February 7th

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic