The 400-Word Review: Daniel Isn't Real

By Sean Collier

March 31, 2020

I dunno... he looks real.

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A significant percentage of horror fiction, from Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” to the “Child’s Play” series, plays a game of this-or-that with the audience.

The central question in these tales: Does the demon (or the ghost, or the killer doll, or what have you) exist in the mind of the raving victim — or is it a real threat? In “Daniel Isn’t Real,” he’s on the screen in front of us. He’s in the title. Our unfortunate protagonist finds evidence of Daniel’s presence. Yet — without giving much away — we are not going to get a straight answer about him.

Or are we? Hard to say. In these stories, the solution isn’t often entirely clear-cut. (Except for the “Child’s Play” example. Chucky is definitely real.)

“Daniel Isn’t Real” is adapted from the novel “In This Way I Was Saved” by Brian DeLeeuw, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Adam Egypt Mortimer. We meet Daniel (Nathan Reid as a child, then Patrick Schwarzenegger as a young adult) as he suddenly arrives in the life of Luke (Griffin Robert Faulkner as a child, then Miles Robbins as an adult).

Luke has been hit by twin traumas. Looking to escape a screaming match between his parents — Dad is leaving because Mom won’t seek mental-health care — he flees his house and heads for the park. En route, however, he passes by a bloody crime scene; he’s horrified and transfixed by the carnage. At that moment, Daniel arrives and invites him to the park to play.




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Luke’s newly single mother (Mary Stuart Masterson) tolerates this supposedly imaginary companion at first; Daniel seems to be helping Luke cope. When Luke follows some sinister instructions from his new friend, however, the lad is told to lock Daniel away. Daniel returns more than a decade later, and he comes back with an agenda.

A strong cast plays “Daniel Isn’t Real” with raw abandon. The young Schwarzenegger doesn’t have his father’s physique (or accent) but inherited an effortless command of the camera; the casting is quite fitting, as the audience is as powerless to escape his influence as Luke. Sasha Lane appears as Luke’s unfortunate love interest; the role is decidedly underwritten, but her charisma is undeniable.

Mortimer diverges into manic-psychedelic artsiness here and there; it’s distracting, but not damning. “Daniel Isn’t Real” is a sturdy genre effort worthy of a wider audience.

My Rating: 7/10

“Daniel Isn’t Real” is streaming now on Shudder.


     


 
 

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