Daniel Isn’t Real (2019)

This suspense-horror hybrid also doubles as a strikingly effective study of the emotional terror caused by encroaching mental illness, in addition to functioning effectively as a straightforward thriller in its own right. Lead actor Miles Robbins has been a memorable comedic performer in movies like “Blockers” and 2018’s “Halloween,” but his performance here is a revelation: He seems to embody his character more than play it, and he’s a marvel to watch. His terror and gradual emotional collapse are totally believable, and he manages to walk a fine line between communicating his character’s  loosening grip on reality and not losing the audience’s sympathy along the way. In some ways I was reminded of Mark Patton’s touching performance in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2,” in that it’s rare to see a male performer so comfortable showing as much vulnerability as Robbins does here. Additionally, the movie itself is terrifically sequenced and edited from the first few frames, and it grips the viewer early on without signaling any of the gripping narrative path ahead of itself like many of these paranoid thrillers do. It’s a shame that things spiral a bit out of control in the last ten minutes because it succumbs to facile narrative conventions that threaten to supercede the originality that came before, but it’s not enough to take away from the compelling empathy that Robbins brings to every frame of the movie.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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