Tuesday, April 23, 2024

“IMAGINARY”

THE STORY – When Jessica moves back into her childhood home with her family, her youngest stepdaughter, Alice, 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.

THE CAST – DeWanda Wise, Tom Payne, Taegen Burns, Pyper Braun, Veronica Falcon & Betty Buckley

THE TEAM – Jeff Wadlow (Director/Writer), Greg Erb & Jason Oremland (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 104 Minutes


When it comes to PG-13 horror, diehard, scary movie fans often turn up their noses. However, just because some films have a less adult-minded rating doesn’t mean there aren’t gems to be found. The yet-to-be-released “I Saw the TV Glow” was given such a rating and features some of the scariest sequences on film I’ve seen in quite a while. Blumhouse Productions has been pumping out PG-13 horror movies lately, including their recent hits “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and “Night Swim.” “Imaginary” is the latest from the famed horror production company, and, unfortunately, it lives up to all the worst stereotypes of PG-13-rated scary movies. It’s not frightening, outside of one or two startling images, nor is it fun in an absurd way, like Blumhouse’s “M3GAN.” Instead, it spends its terribly paced runtime serving up an array of cheesy moments and cliché ideas.

“Imaginary” centers on Jessica (played by DeWanda Wise, who is working much harder than the film demands), who’s doing her best to be a loving stepmom to the two young daughters from her husband’s (Tom Payne) previous marriage. As the film begins, the quartet moves from their city apartment into Jessica’s childhood home, which she hasn’t stepped foot in since she was five years old. There, the younger daughter Alice (Pyper Braun) discovers an old teddy bear named Chauncey. He becomes Alice’s imaginary friend, and it’s not long before the two are inseparable. But their conversations and adventures take a dark turn, and Alice starts to appear to be at the mercy of her pretend friend’s demands. After being left alone with the two girls, Jessica realizes she must take the reins of the unsettling situation, which just might bring up some long-buried memories from her past.

If you’re asking yourself, “Wait, her imaginary friend is a stuffed animal?” don’t worry. The film addresses this confusing idea most haphazardly, indicating the screenplay’s perplexing energy. In one instance, the movie genuinely tries to scare its audiences using admirable practical effects and admittedly effective jump scares. Then, in the next, it adopts a strangely wonderous tone reminiscent of something like “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” or the less spooky parts of “Poltergeist.” The film’s conclusion is particularly odd, as the characters roam around a fantasy world that looks shockingly cheap, filled with idiosyncratic imagery, and described by the characters with asinine dialogue. Even horror veteran Betty Buckley (playing the requisite creepy neighbor) struggles to bring a sense of clarity to these moments. What’s most confusing about the film is the conflicting explanations given about Jessica’s relationship to the house. It’s described as her “happy place,” with Jessica herself mentioning the pleasant memories she has there. But the movie also makes a point to say that she doesn’t remember much about her childhood home, given that she moved out of there at such a young age under the shroud of memory-blocking childhood trauma. This lack of specificity and attention to detail makes it hard for the audience to care about these characters, who so clearly have no foot in the logic of the real world. This foundation of reality is important for horror films to build upon in order to make their otherworldly scares more impactful.

The big baddie is clearly positioned by the film as a would-be icon of horror, but Chauncey is brought to semi-life in a way that’s far from scary or even memorable. Yes, at some points, the film uses costumed actors in the corner of the frame or just behind a main character, which is a refreshing change of pace from CGI-laden horror films. But the film is shot so darkly that it’s often difficult to even make them out. Chauncey’s dialogue is conveyed through Braun, who’s directed to adopt the kind of stereotypical “creepy kid” voice that’s become an expected element of any lesser horror film involving children. She gives it energy, but it’s not her fault that it’s simply not frightening to anyone who’s even half-watched “The Shining” or “Child’s Play.”

“Imaginary” is Blumhouse’s latest disappointment. It’s weighed down by murky cinematography, jumbled editing, and the kind of screenplay where characters constantly just say whatever’s on their mind, no matter how inappropriate their timing is. Leading lady DeWanda Wise does her very best to instill a sense of humanity in the film, but the lackluster execution will make audiences wish they simply imagined this movie.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - There are some decent jump scares and a small handful of genuinely startling images.

THE BAD - Contains a confused, odd tone coupled with a cheesy screenplay. Its scariest moments are undercut by dark cinematography that obscures what's on screen.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 3/10

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Cody Dericks
Cody Dericks
Actor, awards & musical theatre buff. Co-host of the horror film podcast Halloweeners.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>There are some decent jump scares and a small handful of genuinely startling images.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Contains a confused, odd tone coupled with a cheesy screenplay. Its scariest moments are undercut by dark cinematography that obscures what's on screen.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>3/10<br><br>"IMAGINARY"