Writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer mashes cosmic body horror with family/psycho drama for his bodacious, beguiling and genre bending third feature. The story sees anxious student Luke (Miles Robbins) reconnect with imaginary childhood friend Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger), whom Luke had previously supressed following a near-death experience. The two catch-up and bond before Daniel brightens Luke’s gloomy life up once again, but at a colossal cost. With confidence restored thanks to Daniel, Luke starts making new friends, including trendy artist Cassie (Sasha Lane), but Daniel feels dejected. Cracks start to splinter through Luke’s jilted figment’s faux psyche which leads to outbreaks of violence and Dan’s urge to turn Luke’s life into a plain transcending, monster-laden, cerebrum strumming nightmare.
Mortimer’s film feels partly inspired by others yet inimitable through its daring blending of many twisted concepts and designs. Family conflicts and dreamlike scenes are topped with twitchy, cracked characters via excellent performances. Luke’s troubled childhood is relayed like an elongated montage during a terse but patchwork set-up. DIR betters as it progresses before budding into brilliance for the last act’s bop into total bedlam. Hereditary health problems are suggested as the cause of Luke’s hallucinations due to his mentally ill mother Claire (a fantastic Mary Stuart Masterson).
This adorns the surface story with character substance and tactically trickled fragments to twiddle viewers’ expectations. Stuart captivates as Claire, the predominantly frenzied parent, from the backdrop, while Luke and Daniel’s friendship wanes before possibly paranormal presences manifest. Mortimer opts to thrill more than mislead with red-herrings, double backing stories and wrought sub-plots, as tension mounts then suspense and conflicts heighten like a pulse coursing crack through corrupt blood to the devil’s dented heart (obviously while writhing in sloth bile). At the centre of which is Daniel, a Tyler Durden-like friend turned foe, in the core of Luke’s cosmos.
After trying to eradicate Daniel during a tense Tibetan hypnosis session, which tips its hat to The Exorcist but petrifies contrarily, DIR curtails into Lovecraftian terrain, with a nip of Cronenberg type science gone haywire, scattered with psycho-thrills (not babble) for brazen, cosmic, cortex (and context) tuning horror that will blow viewers’ brains and expectations. Like Donnie Darko Raising Cain for a Fight Club up Jacob’s Ladder, this mind frying, retina searing, penal gland pickling cult in the making should be sought out and seen on as big a screen as possible to be believed and best appreciated.
Daniel Isn’t Real is in Cinemas from Friday 7th of February