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Imaginary

Imaginary” is the newest chapter of the Blumhouse lineup, directed by “Truth or Dare” producer Jeff Wadlow. Blumhouse has a hit-or-miss roster, and “Imaginary” feels like another chapter in the list of filler films. It suffers from the plague of overly convoluted plots that are executed by overly simplistic means: flat expositional dialogue, car commercial visual style, and a seemingly first draft creative concept that never irons out the wrinkles. 

Jessica (DeWanda Wise) is a children’s book author and illustrator who is working to form bonds with her stepdaughters, the angry and angsty teen, Taylor (Taegen Burns), and the younger, more open, Alice (Pyper Braun). When Jessica and her husband, Max (Tom Payne), move the family into her childhood home, Alice latches on to an imaginary friend, Chauncey, that exacerbates the already fragile domestic situation and awakens dormant memories from Jessica’s past. What seems like an innocuous childhood rite of passage becomes more sinister as Alice’s bear demands increasingly alarming actions from Alice to prove their “friendship” before he takes her on “a trip.”

Within the domestic drama of Jessica’s feelings of displacement in the family unit is a secondary plot line that hints at out-of-focus childhood traumas and a fractured relationship with her father. Jessica’s escape is her imagination, the creation of her children’s books. Likewise, Taylor and Alice’s mother is committed due to mental health struggles and as Alice looks to find her footing, her imagination opens the door to Chauncey’s influence. While the psychic tether between Alice and Jessica becomes more clear throughout the film, the rest of the story diverges onto a path of confoundment, introducing new laws, worldbuilding, and histories that throw the previous narrative into oblivion. 

When an old neighbor and Jessica’s childhood babysitter, Gloria (Betty Buckley), comes into the picture, “Imaginary” teeters off the thin ledge of horror and into very shallow waters of mythic science fiction. Gone are the conventions of a possessed bear/spirit/demon, and in is a “Coraline”-style hidden door that leads to a labyrinthine underworld of imagination inhabited by long lost children stolen by bug-eyed imaginary friends. It’s a CG landscape somewhere between “The Haunted Mansion” and “Thirteen Ghosts” but without the fun levity of either. 

While it desires itself to be a horror film, what ensues over the course of its runtime feels more like a confused study of tropes that never pay off. For its genre aspirations, “Imaginary” has a pointed lack of scares and gore, relying more on the mere idea of what its concept could be rather than what the film actually is. There’s no carnage candy or heart pounding suspense to relieve the film from its droning pace, and instead it gets caught in a cycle of disappointments as the suggestion of bloodshed or tension fizzles into yet another fake-out.

The script, written by Wadlow, Jason Oremland, and Greg Erb is painfully plain, doing no favors to equally vapid performances by the cast. Every line is incredibly obvious and unnatural, uttered only to progress a theme or provide context to the next scene. “Imaginary” never seems dug into the facets of its potential. It could’ve been a campy blood-soaked version of “Ted,” or an absurd self-aware horror-comedy like “M3gan” or “Child’s Play,” but instead it floats somewhere else in the ether, detached from any feelings of intention or thoughtfulness. It doesn’t need to be a carbon copy of any of its somewhat similar predecessors, but what it neglects is the identity that the other movies possess. “Imaginary” is utterly forgettable, bland, and directionless, ironically so, as for a film that lauds the power of imagination, it shockingly neglects the very element of its own ethos.

Peyton Robinson

Peyton Robinson is a freelance film writer based in Chicago, IL. 

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Film Credits

Imaginary movie poster

Imaginary (2024)

Rated PG-13

104 minutes

Cast

DeWanda Wise as Jessica

Tom Payne as Max

Veronica Falcón as Dr. Alana Soto

Betty Buckley as Gloria

Taegen Burns as Taylor

Pyper Braun as Alice

Director

Writer

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