Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 6, 2019

Daniel Isn’t Real; Assimilate

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:49 pm

In October, I blogged about Martin Scorsese’s put-down of Marvel Comics films. Lest anybody mistake my own views for his, I am a big fan of a slew of super-hero movies with Deadpool, Logan and Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman at the top of the list. You might even say that Scorsese is on shaky ground taking aim at genre films since he is so associated with gangster movies. Of course, it is not genre films itself that are the problem. Instead, the litmus test is quality. What Scorsese was getting at, but did perhaps not make as clearly as possible, was the assembly-line character of Marvel Comics films with all three Iron Man films a prime example of catering to the lowest common denominator.

Among my favorite genres is the horror movie. Today, a very good one is opening at the Cinema Village in New York. Titled “Daniel Isn’t Real”, it is drawn from a novel titled “In This Way I Was Saved” by Brian DeLeeuw who adapted it for the film. It is a story about the ostensibly harmless imaginary friend that many children have until reality kicks in. In this instance, however, the friend is not exactly imaginary and certainly not harmless.

Luke is an only child whose mother is cold and emotionally unstable. One day, Daniel materializes in their house out of nowhere and becomes his best friend. They have sword fights with brooms and other games most boys love to play when very young.

It is only when Luke has gone off to college that Daniel reenters his life. As a freshman, Luke is fairly typical. He is lonely, insecure and depressed. When Daniel shows up again, it is with an agenda. He will become Luke’s adviser, showing him how to score with co-eds and cut a new image as a self-assured, if not cocky, BMOC.

Daniel is played to the hilt by Patrick Schwarzenegger, the Terminator’s son. His character is perfectly Mephistophelean in keeping with the generally malevolent nature of his relationship to Luke. As the two become more and more interdependent, Luke begins to resist the homicidal intentions of his adviser. To break his resistance, Daniel eventually takes over Luke’s body after the fashion of “Invasion of the Body Snatcher”. The film ends with a duel between the two youths over good and evil, just as took place between Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Although I generally don’t refer to film producers in my reviews, it is worth pointing out that in this case it is the same team responsible for “Mandy”, a great B-movie starring Nicholas Cage. Like “Mandy”, “Daniel Isn’t Real” is a low-budget independent movie that relies more on smarts than on CGI to make its point. If only Iron Man et al were in the same mold, I’d have much more time for Marvel Comics cinema.

Among the most copied horror genre films is the 1956 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” that has inspired two very good films, one with the same title that starred Donald Sutherland in 1978 and another with a new name—the 2007 “The Invasion” starring Nicole Kidman. This week I watched another remake of the film titled “Assimilate” that opened without much fanfare this year and has thankfully become available on Netflix.

Randy (Calum Worth) and Zach (Joel Courtney) are two high-school students bent on making a viral video about their boring home town. They have an idea that people will find such a film irresistible since it will be from their jaded point of view that marks them as rebels in Trump territory. They walk around with mini-cams that allows them to capture the mundane musings of the town folk.

We get the first inkling that things might be headed off into body-snatching territory when we see a young boy being towed behind his mother on the sidewalk across the street from our intrepid filmmakers. He keeps saying at the top of his lungs, “You’re not my mother.”

Like in the original film, those whose bodies have become hosts to the space invaders sound “normal” if being normal means speaking in an affectless tone and walking around stiffly. The net effect is watching Peter Buttigieg in a CNN debate. The technique for “assimilating” a new human being is different than the seed pod used traditionally in such flicks. Instead, the space aliens set loose a cross between a rat and an oversized scorpion. Once it takes a bite out of the victim, a new body takes shape separately while the old one drains into nothingness.

What makes the film work is the growing sense of desperation as the two boys and their female comrade Kayla (Andi Matichak) try to save the world while everybody they know and love (sort of) gets transformed. The film is a good way to get your mind off the world’s troubles. As escapist entertainment, it is superlative even if you’ll probably have forgotten about it in a day or two.

 

1 Comment »

  1. I agree that the Iron Man films are bad, especially the first one, which has a plot that is incomprehensible in order to avoid identifying the US as a major culprit in the violence in Afghanistan. The pragmatic liberal vision of the military industrial complex, untrustworthy but necessary, is really obnoxious. This shows up in the Avengers films as well through Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD.

    I do, however, like Doctor Strange and Black Panther, partially because they are mostly outside of this framework. But the best “Marvel” superhero film in recent memory is the Sony animated film, Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse. With animation that recalls the comic art of the 1960s, a story that has emotional resonance through fidelity to the source, and on top of all this, an emphasis upon characters of color, it is superior to the live action Marvel films, with the exceptions of the 2 mentioned above

    Comment by Richard Estes — December 10, 2019 @ 2:13 am


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