As children, our imaginations run wild, allowing us to invent characters and friends when there is nobody else around to keep us company. But what if that character isn’t just imaginary and has nefarious goals in mind? Director Adam Egypt Mortimer poses this question in his excellent new film Daniel Isn’t Real, based on the novel by Brian DeLeeuw.
“…Daniel proves not to be the friend Luke sought, so he locks his ‘imaginary’ friend away…”
Luke (Miles Robbins) grows up in a chaotic household with a mentally-ill mother. One day, while escaping the violence at home, he happens on a violent crime scene and meets another child, Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who quickly becomes his best friend. The thing is, only Luke can see and hear Daniel. Soon Daniel proves not to be the friend Luke sought, so he locks his “imaginary” friend away in a dollhouse and goes about his life. Now in his early 20s, Luke finds himself unhappy and suffering from panic attacks. A psychiatrist (Chukwudi Iwuji) suggests he reopen that part of his life he locked away. He takes the advice and releases Daniel from captivity.
At first, everything seems great. Daniel helps Luke open up, talk to girls at parties, and learn how to enjoy life again. Luke kindles a relationship with a young neighborhood artist (Sasha Lane) and opens up socially. Unfortunately, Daniel has other plans. He becomes domineering and jealous of Luke’s newfound freedom, leading them to battle each other for ultimate existence.