DANIEL ISN’T REAL has been generating a lot of buzz all year. The film has continued to be featured in major festivals like Stiges, TIFF, Frightfest, SXSW, Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, Fantasia, and of course, it was screened on the opening night of one of my favorite Los Angeles based festivals, Beyond Fest.
Adam Egypt Mortimer directed Daniel Isn’t Real and co-wrote the film with Brian DeLeeuw (based on his novel In This Way I Was Saved). I’m a sucker for a psychedelic color palette and rich, layered visuals. And this film did not disappoint with saturated magentas and blues and incredible sets. Miles Robbins as Luke and Patrick Schwarzenegger as Daniel perfectly embody the whole ethos of their characters. I’m all about the gaze especially within the horror genre and Robbins’ ability to capture a true sense of vulnerability and absolute horror just within his eyes is truly remarkable. It was an absolute pleasure speaking with Adam Egypt Mortimer and getting his insights about the film. To put it plainly, he just gets it. He’s rad and the kind of filmmaker that gives me hope when I get depressed about the state of mediocrity in film.
Jennifer Ortega: I love your movie. I was really excited to talk to you. I know it was based on a novel and Brian wrote the novel, correct?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Brian wrote the novel and that’s how I first met him. I met him at a party. He told me that he’d just moved to L.A. and he’d written this novel. I really liked him and I was trying to find material to turn into a movie. So I read the novel like that weekend and I called him up on a Monday or Tuesday afterward and I was like let’s make this movie and then we did it. Now you know we’ve written 4 movies together since the first one, but we kept coming back to it. That was like eight years ago. It took about seven years to get the movie made. We developed a really nice friendship and working relationship there.
Jennifer Ortega: There’s so much I love about the film and the characters of Luke and Daniel are so interesting. The actor that played Daniel, Patrick Schwarzenegger…I’ve read a lot of commentary by other journalists and they mention AMERICAN PYSCHO a lot. But I kind of got a Robert Mitchum NIGHT OF THE HUNTER feeling from him.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: That whole movie is about duality, right? Do you remember the tattoos?
Jennifer Ortega: Yes, he had love and hate on his knuckles.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Yeah. This movie is really about duality. You know we all have all of these different aspects of ourselves fighting within us. So that’s a really interesting comparison. No one has ever said that before. I love that.
Jennifer Ortega: I immediately thought of that movie and yeah it is definitely about duality and about finding that balance of your demons and not letting one take over the other. I’m like such a nerd that I thought of being in college and how I would definitely write papers about this movie. There are so many elements just like the house that he’s trapped in and I think of course of Carl Jung and how the house represents one’s self. But that’s why I love this film. It’s so much deeper than just being about somebody who was hallucinating an alter ego or a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde kind of thing. It goes way deeper than that.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I think you’re right about the environment. I worked very closely with our production designer team. Every space had to represent the psychology of the character and so the house Luke grows up in shows his mother’s environment and its so chaotic. Literally the writing is on the wall and the way she drapes mirrors and all of that stuff is placed so that hopefully you very quickly get a sense of what the last twelve years of his life been like just looking at this living room.
Jennifer Ortega: Oh absolutely. You get a sense right away. Even the opening of the film, I think it does open with kind of a circular..like that beautiful kind of a psychedelic turquoise and reddish hue, but then that opening incident! It grabs you right away! There’s no doubt about that. I thought that was so dynamic just from the start.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I don’t like horror movies where like the first 15 minutes is like they moved into a new house and they’re getting ready and talking about doing homework. I’m like let’s get to the drama! Let’s get to the dynamic insanity of the human experience.
Jennifer Ortega: From the start, it’s like wow! And from the opening few minutes, I knew I was going to like your film. How was working with the actors? Patrick and Tim…that’s not his name. Why am I saying, Tim?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Because his father is Tim. His father is Tim Robbins.
Jennifer Ortega: That’s why thank you! So I’m not losing my mind. I mean both of them obviously come from a kind of like acting dynasty themselves, but they are so good in this. There’s a section where Miles towards the end looks in the mirror where there are tears in his eyes. That gaze. I mean that’s incredible.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Yeah that one moment, it was amazing and I love that it is part of the movie poster. He had so many moments in the movie where he had to go so deep. I think it would get really challenging for him to expose himself that much, to really feel that horror and vulnerability like all day long every day. That was very intense. Looking at that shot that you’re describing with the tears in his eyes, I love that so much because I feel like in 60 years of horror movies we’ve seen that image so many times, but the close up is of a woman horrified with tears in her eyes. I can’t think of a time when you’ve seen a man in that same sort of horror movie position. I felt like this was iconic. What this movie is about is an iconic play on the 2019 version of a horror movie.
Jennifer Ortega: I totally agree. I think it’s such a beautiful amazing shot and you’re completely right because there’s not that–I love horror movies. I love reading about them and studying them, but there’s not in general, vulnerability shown in male characters within the genre.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: It was something that was exciting. I don’t think that we depict male vulnerability, especially in a horror movie in that context very often. And so you know it was really interesting just to think that most horror movies are directed by a man and star a woman who is really vulnerable and really in danger. But what if you played it differently. A lot of people are talking about NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 and I’m not sure they know why they’re bringing that up. But I think its because it’s one of the few horror movies that has a young man as the protagonist and therefore really deconstructed the gender dynamics of what a horror movie does.
Jennifer Ortega: What do you hope people take away from the film and what do you hope they remember from it?
Adam Egypt Mortimer:: I want them to remember the relationship between constant horror and empathy. I feel like those are the two things that are really at war in the story that I was trying to visualize. Like you said, from the way it opens with this cosmic black hole and within that insane world that Luke, Mile’s character, is like trying to insist on empathy and trying to find other people that have that quality. That’s what I’m hoping people understand. That it was about more about that than anything else plus I hope they think it’s a fucking terrifying and interesting experience.
Jennifer Ortega: Well, it absolutely is both fascinating and terrifying! It is so lovely talking to you and the film totally made me remember John Berger’s Ways of Seeing! I hadn’t seen that in years and I totally went down a rabbit hole immediately after watching your film.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: That’s great! I was introduced to that book when I was in college by a girl that I was friends with who was a photographer and a really interesting artist. When I saw how important that book was to her I thought about Cassie, Sasha Lane’s character and knew it was the perfect book for her to be obsessed with.
Jennifer Ortega: Priscilla will kill me because I can literally like talk for an hour with you! But thank you so much!
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed talking with you!
SYNOPSIS: A troubled college freshman, Luke, suffers a violent family trauma and resurrects his childhood imaginary friend Daniel to help him cope.
DIRECTOR: Adam Egypt Mortimer
WRITTEN BY: Adam Egypt Mortimer, Brian DeLeeuw
PRODUCERS: Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Lisa Whalen, Elijah Wood
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Johnny Chang, Peter Wong, Emma Lee, Timur Bekbosunov, Stacy Jorgensen, Elisa Lleras, Michael McGuire
CAST: Patrick Schwarzenegger, Miles Robbins, Sasha Lane, Hannah Marks, Mary Stuart Masterson
RUNTIME: 96 min
THEATRICAL RELEASE DATE: 12/06/2019
VOD RELEASE DATE: 12/06/2019
IMDB PAGE: Click Here