[FilmQuest] Review: Frenetic Dread Comes Calling in DANIEL ISN’T REAL; VOLITION Is a Splendid Clairvoyance Thriller

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Director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s sophomore feature Daniel Isn’t Real takes the Jekyll-and-Hyde and doppelgӓnger tropes to insane new levels — brilliantly colored and giddily nail-biting ones. As a young boy, Luke (Griffin Robert Faulkner) witnesses a mass shooting, where he meets a seemingly creepy boy named Daniel (Nathan Chandler Reid). Luke takes his new friend to meet his mother Claire (Mary Stuart Masterson), who welcomes what seems to be a new imaginary friend of Luke’s into their home — until an evil suggestion by Daniel nearly kills her. Claire and Luke banish Daniel to a dollhouse that they lock up. Fast forward to a young adult Luke (Miles Robbins, son of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon), who is going through some major emotional problems, including dealing with his mother’s schizophrenia. At the suggestion of his therapist, Luke lets Daniel back into his life, with horrific consequences. Adult Daniel’s (Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold) advice to Luke about being productive and meeting women becomes self-serving, sociopathic quests to take over Daniel’s physical form to satisfy violent urges.

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Robbins is dynamite as the troubled, and in trouble, Luke, showing a wide range as he goes from awkward introvert to frightening lunatic and beyond. Schwarzenegger is equally incredible as a manifestation of pure evil, giving an all-out performance. The acting from these two stars alone make Daniel Isn’t Real a must-see, but Mortimer’s skilled horror hand and his dizzying melding of mesmerizing visions and soundscapes are a major highlight of the film, as well. Daniel Isn’t Real is one of the wildest fright-fare rides of the year, and should be seen on the big screen because of its captivating visuals.

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Volition is a time-bending science fiction/film noir mash-up driven by a smart, multilayered story; suspenseful direction; and a top-notch cast. Adrian Glynn McMorran (of the TV series Arrow, Supernatural, and Blade) delivers a riveting performance as James, a man both gifted and cursed with the ability to see pieces of the future since childhood, and who feels that predestination drives his life rather than free will. He attempts to change his bleak outlook and downbeat life of resignation when he foresees his own death as part of a jewelry caper, with newly met love interest Angela (Magda Apanowicz of Supernatural and The Green Inferno) and a determination to meet estranged foster father Elliot (Bill Marchant) to solve riddles of the past as other driving factors. Director Tony Dean Smith, who cowrote the sinewy screenplay with his brother Ryan W. Smith, helms the film with a confident hand and a keen sense of balancing puzzle pieces, thrills, and emotional investment. Volition blends maniacal mobsters and mad science in an intelligent, great-looking package. Make sure to put this one on your need-to-see list.

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Both Daniel Isn’t Real and Volition screened at FilmQuest, which ran at Velour in Provo, Utah, from September 6–14.