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Imaginary Review

March 8, 2024 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Imaginary Image Credit: Parrish Lewis/Lionsgate
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Imaginary Review  

* DeWanda Wise as Jessica
* Pyper Braun as Alice
* Taegen Burns as Taylor
* Betty Buckley as Gloria
* Tom Payne as Max
* Veronica Falcon as Dr. Soto
* Samuel Salary as Ben
* Matthew Sato as Liam
* Alix Angelis as Samantha

Story: When Jessica (DeWanda Wise) moves back into her childhood home with her family, her youngest stepdaughter Alice (Pyper Braun) develops an eerie attachment to a stuffed bear named Chauncey she finds in the basement. Alice starts playing games with Chauncey that begin playful and become increasingly sinister. As Alice’s behavior becomes more and more concerning, Jessica intervenes only to realize Chauncey is much more than the stuffed toy bear she believed him to be.

Blumhouse has mixed reputation, as more people seem to remember its failures than its successes. Sure, this studio gave us The Exorcist: Believer and Five Nights at Freddy’s just last year, but they’re also behind The Black Phone, Freaky and The Invisible Man. A reputation for small-budget movies isn’t a bad thing either, it just depends on the filmmakers. A lot of your favorite horror films had small budgets and required imagination.

That might be why Imaginary, the latest from Jeff Wadlow, is something of a disappointment. For the first two-thirds of the movie, it’s pretty paint-by-numbers and borders on being lifeless. It’s a movie where a creature can bend the rules of reality and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Child’s Play clone. It’s honestly a struggle to get to the final third. Which is a shame because that’s where the movie finally takes a wild swing to explore its premise.

The movie follows Jessica, a stepmother with baggage who is trying to bond with kids that have their own baggage. The youngest, Alice, makes friends with a stuffed bear named Chauncey, who takes on a life of its own. Pretty soon, it’s got her on a scavenger hunt with increasingly bizarre demands to take her where it lives. If you saw the trailer, you know they’re not shying away from the fact that something is going on, and the movie itself never really tries to play coy with that.

Child’s Play, for example, tried hard to make it seem like the kid might be responsible. Pinnochio’s Revenge took that thread to its extreme and actually had no supernatural elements. Imaginary (which is not a killer doll movie, but is staged like one) never tries to pretend it’s anything but what the trailer portrays it to be. Until it gets closer to the end, you can guess every single beat before it happens and it all feels very rudimentary.

There is a good idea here. There are very few movies with this kind of premise, and you’d think horror based on an evil imaginary friend would be a gold mine of material. The problem with Imaginary is that it’s plays it all very safe. While it does have twists near the end, and at least one of them is good, the movie never feels like it gets into that second gear. It does take swings, yes, but safe ones. There’s no suspense or horror to be found, and not a single main character ever feels they’re in any danger. It literally has a character that is only there to deliver piles of exposition, and then that character is written out when there is no need for them.

That’s not to say you can’t have fun here. There are some solid performances, with DeWanda Wise in particular treating the movie as if it’s A-List material. She goes all in on this and commits to it. You have to respect that. And Pyper Braun does very well for how much of the movie she as to carry on her own. And honestly, the voice she gives Chauncey is kind of creepy. As for Chauncey himself? His ‘final form’, as it were, was done practically and appeared to be an animatronic. And say what you will, I cannot hate a movie that still uses practical effects like that in the year 2024. Chauncey looks great and it’s a blast they do more with him.

It’s a dumb, safe horror movie. It also kind of embraces that. The way the character mentioned previously is written out is so sudden and nonsensical, it almost feels like it was done on purpose. But even if it wasn’t, it’s still funny. The climax does set the stage for some enjoyment, even if it sadly doesn’t get as creative as one would like.

The remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street had a budget 35 times higher than the original. And yet, the original was far more creative and took more risks. Imaginary feels more like the remake. You want it to do more, to be more, but it never does. For a movie about imaginary friends, creativity and art, it is surprisingly unimaginative. It’s just wasted potential.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
Imaginary is a very brainless movie, and arguably not as imaginative as you'd expect. However, it seems to embrace how dumb it is, and makes up for it with some solid performances, a practical monster and the occasional wild swing. Go in with an open mind and you might have some fun. But sadly, you shouldn't expect a lot.

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Imaginary, Joseph Lee