8 Films That Inspired Adam Egypt Mortimer's 'Daniel Isn't Real'


Now in limited theaters and on VOD platforms everywhere is Adam Egypt Mortimer‘s must-see indie thriller Daniel Isn’t Real (review of the film), which Trace called “unique and terrifying” out of the SXSW World Premiere this past March.

In the film, a troubled college freshman (Miles Robbins) suffers a violent family trauma and resurrects his childhood imaginary friend (Patrick Schwarzenegger) to help him cope.

Bloody Disgusting caught up with Mortimer, who shares several movies that inspired his hallucinatory nightmare.


Jacob’s Ladder: “No movie better portrays the feeling of trauma than Jacob’s Ladder. It presents a recognizable feeling we all have in our more extreme moments when you wake up one day and the world is hell but somehow it is your hell. Any time in my life that something extraordinarily awful has happened I always think of Jacob’s Ladder.  Adrian Lyne achieves the feeling of depersonalization that trauma creates while at the same time letting Robbins’ performance bring kinetic energy, life, and humor into the world so that there is always a contrast of feelings and a sense that we are never wallowing. Also, rad fucking demons, come on let’s be honest.”

Pink Floyd’s The Wall: “We tend to think of The Wall as a multimedia / musical project, but I love it as a movie. It’s the film that disturbed me the most as a kid and that feeling a being traumatized by a movie about trauma made a big impact on my approach to Daniel.  Unlike some of the other movies that were inspirations, I didn’t watch or share The Wall in advance of shooting but I saw it on a big screen as soon as we wrapped and realized how much imagery from it had wormed its way into my brain and back out into my movie in the form of gnarly psychological meat worms.  There’s a shot of Miles screaming into a cosmic brick wall that is an undeniable unconscious reference. The movie itself is structured around the inherent fascism of the self and visually presents the transformation from chaotic mania to controlled evil.  There’s no question that you can watch Jacob’s Ladder and the Wall together as a brilliant double feature about past trauma and a living hell.  In fact, they have the same production designer, Brian Morris, and his design in both films is a brilliant contribution to the vibe of darkness, decay, and energy.”

Bug: “Everything Friedkin does is my most important inspiration and Daniel clearly springs in many ways from The Exorcist. But Bug is my favorite Friedkin, as it is through his dynamic blocking and shooting strategies that he makes a movie of two or three people talking in a room relentlessly gripping. As an exploration of how one character’s mania can influence and absorb another character’s psyche, it is unparalleled  — with the exception of Persona.”

Persona: “What you don’t realize before you see Persona for the first time is that it is punk as fuck.  There’s so much energy, experimentalism, risk, dynamic visuals, and crazy choices in this 85-minute movie that you could study it forever and still find cool new things to rip off. The story of two characters in isolation going through love, hatred, insanity, transformation — is beautifully and shockingly filmed. This was one of the movies from which I ripped clips and made everyone in our crew watch. See if you can spot all the shots we put our own spin on.”

Raw: “One of the only movies from this decade that was a direct influence on Daniel, Julia Ducournau’s story about cannibal sisters in college crackles with life and truth while also presenting some truly gruesome and horrifying images.  The choice of needle drops combined with the staging of the party sequences are some next level contemporary filmmaking.”

Watership Down: “This story about rabbit enduring their own apocalypse was the first movie that disturbed me when I watched it as a tiny child. The imagery of rabbits clawing their way through tunnels of blood, of the fascist rabbits who would tear off the ears of weaker dissidents, and of the black rabbit of death swimming through the sky — these would not ever leave my brain and kept me in nightmares for months. The combination of adorable animals and a severely brutal world is something that would haunt me forever. I can only ever hope to make something that has this level of traumatizing power.”

Requiem For A Dream: “A deepening spiral of very bad trouble that begins sweetly enough as a romance and becomes an almost unendurable descent into agony — Requiem is one of my favorites. This is another one that I shared with everyone involved and especially looked at it with Clark when we were discussing the soundtrack as a sonic experience that would thread relentlessly through the story, picking up in intensity and exposing the inner life of a mind breaking apart.”

Midnight Run: “This is my favorite movie of the 80s buddy crime comedy genre.  The nonstop antagonism between Robert DeNiro and Charles Groden is one of the most captivating stories of male frenemyship. I don’t generally love these kinds of movies above all others but this particular one stuck with me ever since I saw it as a kid and I think there was some weird fragment of its DNA in Daniel.”






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