Daniel Isn’t Real – Fantasia 2019 Review

“It’s like Twitter: The Movie…” – Adam Egypt Mortimer (2019)

Manic depressive episodes, imaginary friends, and a castle consumed by one’s literal inner demons, Daniel Isn’t Real arguably has it all! In Adam Egypt Mortimer’s solo sophomore feature, his expansive influences of prior-pop culture nostalgia comes into full force, to deliver a film that successfully spooks and terrifies it’s audience, before the film’s monumentally disappointing final act. Utilizing kinetic maximalism for it’s key stylistic self-contained direction, there’s plenty of eye-candy to be had with Mortimer’s latest endeavor. From striking neon lighting, to it’s gritty grounded production design, audiences should be aware before hand of the film’s occasionally flicker-vertigo inducing visuals. It’s not often when audiences receive a horror film, that both feels and looks chaotically beautiful, amidst the film’s elements of sincere tragedy. 

The most impeccable elements of Daniel Isn’t Real, has to be from it’s extraordinary terrifying second-act. In where I can honestly consider the film as a near perfect examination of psychological behaviors, and the everlasting stigma of trauma (PTSD) on young, innocent, susceptible victims; the true horror of the scenarios at play is finally unleashed into the limelight in all of it’s spectacular glory. Patrick Schwarzenegger in particular knocks the surrounding competition out of the park (including Miles Robbins impressive attempts at matching his co-star’s unhinged psychopathy) with a performance that will be forever ingrained into each and every audience member’s memory-bank. He’s like an ear worm with an incredible fashion sense, where each of his mannerisms further iconize his diabolical behavior to thwart against the film’s central protagonist. A particularly menacing scene, which I consider my personal favorite moment in the film, involves a steam tunnel; where the pure harmonious direction and flow of the sequence is something that I can personally call cinematic perfection, especially with how all the practical “face-swap” effects came into play. 

Yet unfortunately, I can’t sing my praises as highly as I did with the second act of the film. The first act of Daniel Isn’t Real is particularly rushed, to the point where the excessively stark subject matter becomes an overly bleak introduction to what would eventually develop into something a little more sinister. The promiscuity overload and the paint by numbers approach, just feels more like mandated filler than something purposeful; especially with how the film attempted to juggle with multiple themes and concepts in only it’s first five minutes. Even more disappointingly, the final act is exceptionally contrived and corny with it’s overuse of supernatural elements, which takes away from the sheer brilliance of the horror which emitted from the second act. It’s never a good sign when a key plot-device which involves hypnotism feels underdeveloped.

Inventive and carefree with its stylistic direction, eerie sound-mix, and musical score, it’s honestly liberating to see a horror film to take so many artistic risks in this day and age. There’s a really great film in Daniel Isn’t Real. If it wasn’t for the two sub-par acts, this would easily be in consideration as one of the best films which 2019 has to offer. Alas, what we have now is something incredibly solid and prolific, and demonstrates plenty of promise from Adam Egypt Mortimer and Co. 

Daniel Isn’t Real screened at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. The film will hit select cinemas and VOD on December 6th

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