Luke (Griffin Robert Faulkner) is a young boy whose parents are in the midst of divorce, which is exacerbated by his mother Claire’s (Mary Stuart Masterson) mental illness. During a particularly vicious fight, he flees the house and comes across the corpse of an armed gunman who was shot down by the police. That moment of absolute horror is when his invisible friend Daniel (Nathan Chandler Reid) appears and invites him to play. All is well until Daniel convinces him to try to poison his mother, and Claire forces Luke to lock Daniel away. Cut to present day, when Luke (Miles Robbins) is a college freshman, and the stress he’s experiencing from his studies and his mother’s increasingly erratic, paranoid behavior causes his psychiatrist Dr. Braun (Chukwudi Iwuji) to suggest he reconnect with Daniel. Which isn’t the best idea, because grown-up Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) is exponentially more deadly–and even harder to control.
It’s possible to read the movie as an allegory for modern-day angst and the self-destructive ways people cope with their inner demons. Daniel is attracted to Luke’s trauma, fear, and loneliness. Luke’s lover Cassie (Sasha Lane) describes seeing a shadow in his psyche, and wants to help him get rid of it. The central conflict in the movie is the battle between Daniel’s appealing but harmful methods of getting through life and Cassie’s unconditional love and acceptance. You could even argue that the title symbolizes the plight of people with depression, who are often told that the disorder is all in their head.
The characters are exquisitely written and performed. Miles Robbins is the son of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, so he’s got major acting chops in his blood. Indeed, his performance as the fragile but determined Luke is heartwrenching. Patrick Schwarzenegger is the son of, you guessed it, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. I read he was keen on the role because he’s a fan of Nicolas Cage and wanted to utilize his acting style. Don’t worry, he’s great. To me, he comes across a lot more like Christian Bale in American Psycho: gleefully insane and cocky to no end.
Sasha Lane (no relation to Diane Lane) is admirable as Cassie; she starts out as a bit of a cliche manic pixie dream girl, but she’s smart and tough and refuses to let Daniel victimize her. Claire is hard to like, I imagine especially for viewers who don’t get how being self-destructive works; I wrote extensively on the subject of lack of psychological well-being and motherhood here, so I won’t bore you with my experience now. I will say that without being in Claire’s situation (I’m happily married and taking my meds), I can still empathize: being a mom is hard and being a single mom is harder and being a single mom with untreated mental health issues is hard as shit.
There is a fair amount of comic relief, but the movie surprised me by getting really creepy. Between the eerie score, the shocking visual effects, and the take-no-prisoners gloom of its tone, it’s definitely the scariest film I’ve seen in a while. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something beautiful but disturbing.