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Daniel Isn't Real

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Daniel Isn't Real Movie Poster Image
Decent imaginary-friend horror tale has sex, violence.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 96 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Buried message about taking responsibility for your actions rather than blaming outside forces. Also brings up themes like imaginary friends for kids: Are they harmful or helpful? Wonders whether evil simply exists all by itself in the world, attacking randomly, or if humans must decide to be evil.

Positive Role Models & Representations

No worthy role models here. Main character is passive and allows himself to be manipulated by another. He eventually takes control of the situation, but perhaps too late. Other characters are largely victims or predators.

Violence

Random, violent shooting in a cafe; bystanders are brutally shot. Bloody corpses shown. Blood splatter. Throat-slicing. Stabbing. Characters fight (one wields an empty bottle). Swordfighting. Punching. Burn via hot pipe. Hitting with chair. Scary/gross imagery, nightmares, monsters. Arguing, shouting. Pepper spray.

Sex

Main character kisses and has sex with two different women. Oral sex. Flirting. Sexual innuendo and strong sex-related talk. Shirtless man.

Language

Fairly frequent language includes uses of "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," and "damn," plus "oh my God" and "Christ" (as exclamations).

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Heavy drinking at party; vomiting. Cocaine use. Cigarette smoking. Kids blend a bottle of prescription pills in a drink to give to an adult; she's shown sweating and writhing in pain/discomfort. Other prescription meds shown.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Daniel Isn't Real is a horror movie about an imaginary friend that turns out to be evil. There's graphic violence, including blood and gore, shocking scenes of guns/shooting, dead bodies, fighting/punching, and scary/creepy horror imagery. The main character kisses and has sex with two different women. There's also implied oral sex and some pretty explicit sex-related talk. Language includes uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. Characters drink heavily, snort cocaine, and smoke cigarettes. Two kids grind up a bottle's worth of prescription pills and serve them in a shake to an adult, who's then shown sweating and writhing in pain and discomfort. The movie (based on a novel by Brian DeLeeuw) isn't particularly original, but it does manage some memorably horrific imagery and keeps up a strong pace.

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What's the story?

In DANIEL ISN'T REAL, young Luke (Griffin Robert Faulkner) suffers through his parents' breakup, as well as random violence around his city neighborhood -- and then his imaginary friend Daniel comes along to make life better and more fun. After Daniel coaxes Luke into pulling a dangerous stunt on Luke's mother (Mary Stuart Masterson), Luke locks Daniel away in a dollhouse. Years later, Luke (Miles Robbins) -- now a troubled college student -- finds his mother's mental health deteriorating. One night, he unlocks the dollhouse and discovers a fully grown Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who's ready to be friends again. At first, Daniel's influence is fun: He helps Luke talk to girls like Sophie (Hannah Marks) and Cassie (Sasha Lane). But things take a darker turn as Luke starts to realize that Daniel may be something more than imaginary.

Is it any good?

Even if it never really does a memorable deep-dive into psychological or emotional territory, this effective horror movie starts with a good idea and stays true to it throughout its running time. Based on a novel by Brian DeLeeuw -- who co-wrote the screenplay with director Adam Egypt Mortimer -- Daniel Isn't Real lightly travels familiar territory, with shades of Fight Club, Donnie Darko, and American Psycho. It stays somewhat on the surface, especially with the passive main character, Luke, and the way his world helplessly crumbles around him. Daniel is more fun, providing a hint of intoxicating power before letting slip a more threatening side.

Yet director Mortimer manages to keep a snappy B movie pace, and the shortfalls never really bog down the story. The movie ups its game with its shocking opening sequence: an act of random violence in a cafe that doesn't seem to tie in to the rest of the movie until we start to realize that evil itself can be random. Daniel Isn't Real saves some of its best stuff until the climax, as the characters move from the flat, dreary look of the movie's cityscape to a sinister, cavernous, eerily lit place. There, we get shocking transformations and a bloody showdown that briefly jar the movie to life. It leaves off with enough of a satisfying click to make it worth a look. 

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