Howdy, folks! McEric here with a review for a new thriller films called DANIEL ISN'T REAL, starring Patrick Schwarzenegger (MIDNIGHT SUN, SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE APOCALYPSE) and Miles Robbins (BLOCKERS, 2018's HALLOWEEN). After having to commit his mentally ill mother following a psychotic break, Luke (Robbins) finds support from the Imaginary Friend of his childhood, Daniel (Schwarzenegger), who seems to have all the answers Luke desperately needs. But Daniel's intentions aren't wholly altruistic, and a sinister desire begins to emerge as he exercises more control on Luke's life. DANIEL ISN'T REAL is being released by Samuel Goldwyn Films and Shudder and from Ace Pictures and SpectreVision.
Check out the trailer:
The film is directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer (HOLIDAYS, SOME KIND OF HATE) from a script he wrote along with the original novelist, Brian Deleuw. Notable producers on the film are Timur Bekbosunov and Elijah Wood, as well as much of the team that brought us MANDY last year. The stars are truly aligned for this film, and the talent shows through in the final product.
The first thing I noted with this film was the excellent sound design. It opens with Luke and Daniel as young boys, and their fantasies are given their due weight through sounds, where broomsticks clash with the sounds of clanging swords, and parachutes catch the air as they lay on the floor of the living room. With the impressive manner in which these scenes are shot and edited with foley, you know you're in for a movie that has considerable talent and effort behind it. I wish I could tell you this isn't a rarity and needn't be celebrated, but I think we all know that's not the world we're living in right now. So when I get the chance to review an independent film that those involved actually believe in enough to put the work in behind it, I get excited.
The film jumps forward in time to Luke's freshman year in college when he is called back home to attend to his mother, played by Mary Stuart Masterson who is given little screentime but is truly Some Kind of Wonderful in the time she is alloted. She has been harming herself and behaving erratically and Luke has her admitted to a facility where she can be cared for and looked after. As his own stresses mount, Daniel returns, helping him along the way.
Schwarzenegger and Robbins have great chemistry, and although the former spends quite a bit of his screentime detachedly observing and menacingly scrutinizing Luke's life, his "friendly" interactions show a genuine admiration. He charms when it benefits him, and relatively boils otherwise. As his control strengthens, we get further views into who or what Daniel might actually be, and the film finds its own voice as it trots past all of the obvious comparisons it draws.
The final conflict is predictable but enjoyable, and the film as a whole is quite good. Its strength is its two leads, with Schwarzenegger being the true standout. He relishes in the role, and his excitement and fun shine through the performance to the viewer's benefit. It's a truly unique slice of psychological terror that establishes its leads as rising talents and the production team behind it as trendsetters in the genre.
I had the opportunity to ask the titular Daniel a few questions, as he was gracious enough to loan his time. Check it out:
Eric McClanahan: Patrick, your role in "Daniel Isn't Real" is a delicious one that any actor would be thrilled to explore. What brought you to the project?
Patrick Schwarzenegger: I think that the reason that everyone was brought to the project and why I ended up doing it was, there are actually a few reasons, one was the character of Daniel. Something that I got to really dive into a full on character and someone that was completely different than not only myself, but any of the other roles or movies I’ve done prior. It kind of allowed me to spread my wings and do something different in the film world, and tap into an audience that I hadn’t been a part of yet, and this genre I hadn’t really been a part of yet. And also the movie really taps into serious subject matters of mental health and toxic masculinity and what it’s like to be a young male with these kinds of issues. Those reasons are pretty much the things that drew me into the project.
EM: Did you work with your younger counterpart, Nathan Chandler Reid, at all to mirror one another's performance aspects to bring consistency to Daniel?
PS: You know what, we actually didn’t. He met me, obviously with the filming and filming schedule you don’t shoot everything chronologically, so he came in I think on like the second or third week, and obviously hair and makeup and wardrobe kind of dressed him in a similar sense and he got to meet me and watch some of the stuff I was doing. But we didn’t have the privilege to meet each other prior to filming or for me to watch him and go continue that after. But I think he got to watch the stuff I did and mimic that and same with Miles Robbins character at the end of the movie.
EM: Daniel seemed to me to be an amalgamation of several cinematic creations: Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden from FIGHT CLUB, Al Pacino's John Milton from THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, and even a little of Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman from AMERICAN PSYCHO. Where did you draw your inspiration for the character?
PS: Yeah it’s funny because I watched all of those, and I also included SPLIT, and I included SHUTTER ISLAND but yeah it’s funny someone else had just asked me if you could play a villain which one would it be and Patrick Bateman is definitely at the top of that list just because I think that’s kind of a character that on the exterior, on the outside, he seems like everybody else. He seems like, for everyone else, he has everything right? He’s dressed in a suit, he’s dressed well, handsome guy, has a great job, yet on the inside he’s totally fucked up. And I think that’s something that deals with mental health which is we never really know who’s going through what, or what they’re going through. Doesn’t matter if they’re a guy in a suit slicked back or someone that’s homeless living on the street. But as far as kind of characters and movies that I’d watched, all of those that you listed plus the ones that I said and took characters, kind of different stuff from those but we also wanted to make it our own. And a way that we did that is we took out a lot of dialogue from the actual film. There were times that in the original script and in the book there was, from my perspective, a lot of dialogue and stuff. And we just took it out and did more of like me observing certain situations, me kind of that devil on the right shoulder for Luke’s character. And yeah the inspiration came from a bunch of different projects, but we tried to find ways to make it our own.
EM: The film straddles so many genres and has drawn many comparisons. Some say it's a bit of DROP DEAD FRED with a bit of FIGHT CLUB, but by the third act it's something completely different. How would you describe the film to an interested party?
PS: Again, I think that as far as how it was written and directed, Adam had a bunch of different films that he loved as an inspiration, so I think that he definitely drew from some of those. I think he even talks about certain shots that he wanted to attempt to mimic or recreate from certain films. How do I describe it to an audience would be literally what it is. I mean it's kind of like an extreme mind bending film about a kid with schizophrenia and develops a traumatizing friendship with his imaginary friend. You know, that’s kind of what it’s about. And it’s about their relationship, and it’s an awesome and wild film that you probably have no idea what it’s gonna be about.
EM: Once or twice we see Daniel as a demonic entity, a snaggle-toothed creature with a castle head... was that you?
PS: Yeah, it was me. And unfortunately, no one can tell that it's me. That was an 8 hour day of makeup. It’s funny because we were debating, you know, with independent films obviously everything’s on such a tight schedule, and they for some reason thought that the viewer would be able to tell that it’s me. So I had to come in and do this 8 hour makeup; that was the only scene I could film that day because it took up this whole day of time. And then afterwards they were like “Oh shit, we should’ve just had someone else put on the hair and makeup do that, and we should’ve filmed other stuff with a v-cam,” but yup, that’s me.
EM: In your opinion, is Daniel a separate Demon or a dark aspect of Luke's psychology? He speaks as a timeless traveler but couldn't that all be part of Luke's imaginative coping mechanisms?
PS: I think it’s a mix, it’s really about who you ask. To one person, it might be that he’s total imagination and he’s nothing, but to Luke, and to people that--you hear that with mental health and with all this is that people have these voices in their head, they have these other aspects of their imagination and of their mind. And to some people it’s like "okay, that person’s crazy, they’re just imagining things, there’s nothing there" while to that person it’s really real. That voice is really there, and speaking to them and driving them crazy, and driving them into anxiety and depression and everything. So I think that Daniel is very much real for Luke and for other people Luke is extremely crazy for thinking that.
EM: What's next for you?
PS: Ooh, I just filmed another psychological thriller called WARNING, that’s coming out this next year. We filmed it earlier in this spring in Poland, and that’s an anthology about dealing with relationships all in the future. So I’m really excited about that one. And then I just filmed another film this summer, called ECHO BOOMERS with Michael Shannon; he produced it and is starring in it as well, and that was the best script from Sundance, which is going to be awesome. And then right now I’m working on a Netflix movie with Amy Poehler; you know she’s writing and directing and producing a project for them called MOXIE, which is about a feminist kind of group movement in the school to out toxic masculinity, which is also deals with a lot of social and political topics of today. It’s really awesome to get to work with Amy and with Netflix so that’s coming out this next year as well. So we have DANIEL ISN'T REAL coming out this weekend, and those three films coming out next year, which I’m extremely excited about.
EM: Any last comments you'd like to make to our readers to entice them to see DANIEL ISN'T REAL?
PS: The producers and the filmmakers behind this, they know what they’re doing. Elijah Wood, they created MANDY, which was a massive hit among this genre of film audience. This movie is mind-bending and completely fucked up and dives into the idea of mental health and what it’s like to have a relationship with that alter voice. This movie will definitely blow your mind and take you on a ride that you weren’t expecting, and hopefully you enjoy it, cinematically.
Many thanks to Patrick Schwarzenegger for answering my questions and shedding a bit of light on the process behind DANIEL ISN'T REAL. And I gotta say, I'm inclined to agree with him. It is fucked up and will take you on a ride that you weren't expecting, and I mean all of that in a good way. If you're a fan of psychological terror and mind horror, check this flick out. I think you'll enjoy it. I know I did.
DANIEL ISN'T REAL is in theaters, on Digital and Demand today, December 6th. Until next time, I'll see you at the movies.
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-