'Daniel Isn't Real' Review: When Imaginary Friends Go Bad [Denver Film Festival]

This review contains mild spoilers for Daniel Isn't RealImaginary friends have a way of getting a little dicey in media. They start out sweet. They act as a companion and build up the confidence of their hosts. Then the next thing you know they're telling you to put glue in your sister's shampoo and hair on your mom's toothbrush. But what would happen if that imaginary friend took things to a more sinister place? Daniel Isn't Real is here to answer that question. Luke has struggled from a young age. His father left he and his mother pretty early on in his life due to his mother's deteriorating mental health and her refusal to do anything about it. Finding himself alone in his own home, Luke created Daniel. So far as imaginary friends go, Daniel's pretty lowkey! He just wants to play knights and keep his head in the clouds with his best friend. But that all changes after the boys witness a gruesome shooting at a local coffee shop. The boys continue to play their games and have their fun, but young Daniel begins to worry that Luke's mother is trying to cut him out of the picture. In response to that fear he suggests pouring a bottle of pills into her smoothie. Naturally, Luke's mother insists that it's time for Daniel to go away once she recovers. Following his mother's orders, Luke locks Daniel away in his grandmother's creepy old doll house. It's a battle at first, but with much insistence and a turn of a key, Daniel's locked away for good. That is, he's locked away for good until Luke's mother spirals harder than ever before. Unsure on how to keep her safe while under his care, Luke commits her to a mental institution. Feeling weak and alone, he also makes the decision to let his friend out for some air.With the turn of a key, a fully-grown Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) skips back into Luke's life. Things are just as they were in the old days! Daniel spends days gassing up his friend. He helps him find his confidence and to dive back into his art again, all the while just seemingly happy to be around. Things don't start to get dicey between the two of them until Cassie (Sasha Lane) starts taking up more attention than Daniel likes. Though the pattern of mischief repeats itself, you can rest assured that the second verse is very different from the first. The grown-up version of Daniel is a whole heck of a lot smarter than the kid version, and Luke could lose it all if he's not careful. That's as far as I dare go into the plot without going into spoiler town, but I'll leave it at this: the narrative of this film doesn't go in any direction that you'd expect it to. Things go from zero to one hundred very quickly, and then you're done! The final act of Daniel Isn't Real is a neon-soaked torture chamber of weird that I liked more the longer I sat with it. While the gears shift as we hit that third act, it doesn't mean that what came before is absent of any punch. As a matter of fact, Daniel Isn't Real immediately puts the viewer on edge. It opens with raw, unreasoned violence. There are plenty of triggering moments that might warrant a little more digging for those who are sensitive to subjects surrounding mental health and deteriorating parents. There's no arguing that the film is grating, but it's mostly to its merit. If you like your horror weird and filled with self-doubt with a dash of self-loathing, this one's going to be for you!  /Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10