Imaginary Turns a Childhood Staple into a Soul-Sucking Demon

Photo credit: Parrish Lewis / Courtesy of Lionsgate

I’m always up for a new Blumhouse film. Sure, Blumhouse has their fair share of stinkers just like any other studio, but they’ve also put out some of the best horror movies of the past decade and a half, like Paranormal Activity, Get Out, and The Black Phone. They’ve more than earned the benefit of the doubt in my book, so naturally, I was really looking forward to Imaginary. I thought the film had the potential to be another terrifying hit for Jason Blum and his crew, and I couldn’t wait to see how it would turn a staple of many people’s childhoods into a soul-sucking demon.

Imaginary was directed and co-written by Jeff Wadlow, and it stars DeWanda Wise, Tom Payne, Taegen Burns, Pyper Braun, and Betty Buckley. The film follows a woman named Jessica who returns to her childhood home with her new husband, Max, and his two daughters, Alice and Taylor. At first, everything seems to go according to plan, but that all changes when Alice finds a teddy bear stowed away in a hidden room.

Alice quickly starts to anthropomorphize the bear and call it Chauncey and becomes borderline obsessed with it. Jessica eventually begins to worry about Alice’s mental health, and soon discovers there’s a lot more to this seemingly innocuous toy than meets the eye. It’s the same teddy bear she used to play with when she was a kid; a realization leads her to uncover a terrifying truth about her own childhood and her imaginary friend who may have turned out to have been more than that.

On paper, that sounds like a fascinating concept for a horror movie, but unfortunately, Imaginary drops the ball and botches the execution. For starters, the characters and their relationships are almost all bland cliches. To take just one example, consider Taylor, Max’s older daughter. She’s 15 years old, and as you can probably guess, she’s not too fond of Jessica.

She sees the woman as an intruder rather than a genuine member of her family, and (surprise, surprise!) her relationship with her stepmother only worsens when Max has to go on tour with his band. I’m not going to spell out the girl’s entire arc, but suffice it to say, it plays out exactly the way you’d expect. She even meets the obligatory cute boy next door almost immediately after moving into her new house, so nothing about her feels even remotely interesting or fresh.

That being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the one good character in Imaginary—Alice. She’s Max’s younger daughter, and she’s played excellently by 10-year-old Pyper Braun. Child actors are notoriously hit or miss, but Braun is one of the rare kids who already has what it takes to be a star.

Sometimes she has to be menacing, other times she has to be sweet and charming, and still other times she has to cry in abject terror. But no matter what this story requires of her, Braun completely nails it every single time. She’s hands down this movie’s biggest saving grace, and I can’t wait to see where her career goes from here.

A woman looking scared
Photo credit: Parrish Lewis / Courtesy of Lionsgate

On top of those weak characters, some of the dialogue in Imaginary is also pretty cringeworthy. In particular, Gloria, an elderly woman who lives next door to Jessica and Max’s new home, gets a couple of almost Madame Web-level lines (and if you haven’t seen that film, let me assure you, it’s just as bad as everyone says). Simply put, I couldn’t take this character seriously.

And that’s a real shame because she’s played really well. Actress Betty Buckley delivers her dialogue as convincingly as possible, so if she had more sensible things to say, you’d buy into her. She’d even join Alice as one of the movie’s biggest strengths, but unfortunately, the poor writing completely wastes this awesome performance.

Last but not least, we have to talk about the horror in Imaginary. As bad as the characters and the dialogue are, this just might be the worst thing about the film. There are a couple of creepy moments here and there. For instance, we get a few scenes where we can see a sinister entity lurking in the background, and director Jeff Wadlow wisely avoids calling undue attention to it. Instead, he lets the inherent creepiness of those moments do all the heavy lifting, so they actually end up being pretty effective.

Unfortunately, those are just a handful of shots, and the rest of the horror in Imaginary is just as uninspired as the characters. There’s zero real tension in this movie, the scares are almost all cheap jump scares, and the imagery is yawn-inducingly uncreepy. In fact, on a purely visual level, this is some of the worst horror I’ve seen in a while.

To take just a few examples, there are several scenes where the CGI is laughably bad, and whenever we get to see Chauncey’s more horrific forms, the designs are equally second-rate. In particular, there are a couple of times when people’s eyes become black and grow to unnatural proportions, and the effects in those shots look like they came straight out of the 1950s. They’ll make you wonder who the hell thought that was a good look, so they’re much more likely to induce a laugh than a scream.

In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t like Imaginary. Granted, it’s not all bad, but the movie’s weaknesses outweigh its strengths by a pretty wide margin. The bland characters, weak dialogue, and ineffective horror make for an almost excruciating experience, so unless you’re dead-set on seeing this film, I highly suggest that you give it a pass.

Imaginary is playing in theaters right now.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters. You can find him on Twitter @jpnunezhorror.

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