The Movie Waffler New to VOD - IMAGINARY | The Movie Waffler


woman grows increasingly suspicious when her young stepdaughter becomes attached to a stuffed bear.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jeff Wadlow

Starring: DeWanda Wise, Tom Payne, Taegan Burns, Pyper Braun, Veronica Falcon, Betty Buckley

Imaginary poster

I never had an imaginary friend as a child, and I've never come across anyone else who had one either. Had my parents ever found me speaking to a presence only I could see, they probably would have had me taken away by the men in white coats. Horror movies would have us believe that most kids have imaginary friends. "Oh it's just an imaginary friend," the adults in horror movies always say when their sprogs start hosting tea parties for invisible figures with horrific names like "Mister Wiggles" or "Doctor Sardonicus." It's a statement that's usually followed by "Didn't you have an imaginary friend?"

The "imaginary friends" in horror movies always turn out to be malevolent demons using a child's innocence for nefarious purposes, but director Jeff Wadlow's Imaginary gives us an intriguing spin on this idea, supposing that imaginary friends are themselves evil forces rather than a fake disguise worn by evil entities. Unfortunately the movie has no idea where to take this idea, and it all plays out in a decidedly unimaginative mess of expository dialogue and ideas ripped off from previous horror and fantasy movies.

Imaginary review

After an opening dream sequence featuring a demon that laughably looks like a rejected Muppet we're introduced to newlyweds Jessica (DeWanda Wise) and Max (Tom Payne). An author and illustrator of children's books, Jessica is now saddled with musician Max's two daughters - five-year-old Alice (Pyper Braun), who is welcoming of Jessica but somewhat distant, and 15-year-old Taylor (Taegen Burns), who treats her new stepmom with utter contempt. Max definitely got the better end of the bargain, as not only does Jessca have no kids of her own but she also moves the newly blended family into the massive home now left vacated by her father's permanent hospitalisation for psychiatric troubles. Tom's first wife and the mother of his daughters is similarly incarcerated after a series of psychotic episodes, one of which led to Alice being badly scalded on her arm.

When Alice discovers a stuffed bear in the basement she names it Chauncey and becomes convinced that it's sentient. Jessica has no recollection of owning the bear as a child, but doesn't give it much thought. She initially encourages Alice's mad as a hatter belief in her new imaginary friend until the kid begins to exhibit increasingly disturbing behaviour.

Imaginary review

There's a ton of wasted potential in Imaginary, with lots of ideas raised only to be left unexplored in a film more concerned with adhering to the Blumhouse template of a jump scare every 10 minutes and an overblown and overlong climax. The idea of a woman who makes a living writing stories for children and yet can't connect to a child in real life could fuel a movie of its own, but it's never reckoned with to any satisfying degree here. Another thought provoking idea left on the table here is that of the balancing act parents must perform in fostering a child's creativity without encouraging their delusions. But let's face it, such ideas are probably above the pay grade of the director of Kick-Ass 2 and the big screen adaptation of Fantasy Island.

A big problem here is that, like so much recent PG-rated horror, the film doesn't seem to know if it's aiming for an adult or child audience. Wadlow's co-writers Greg Erb and Jason Oremland come from a background in children's entertainment, and yet the film centres on the adult Jessica. A more interesting, dare I say Spielbergian version of this story might have focussed on Alice rather than Jessica. The need for adult scares could have been replaced by something far more emotionally affecting, the idea of a child discovering that the person that means the most to them, their imaginary teddy bear-inhabiting friend, is out to get them. There's a moment where Alice screams "You were never really my friend" at Chauncey, but it has none of the emotional weight it really should carry. If handled well there isn't a dry eye in the house at this point, as even the adults would be impacted by our collective sadness at having to leave our childhoods behind.

Imaginary review

It doesn't work as a children's fantasy, and Imaginary is no more successful as a horror movie. There's a distinct lack of peril, chiefly because unlike the titular tiny terror of M3GAN, we never really get to see Chauncey harm anyone, not even a dog or a cat. Not so much as a goldfish is harmed, so why are we supposed to be terrified of this talking teddy? The "scares" are very much of the second-hand variety, with yet another variation of the "small thing suddenly becomes big" gag from Mario Bava's Shock, and the finale sees Blumhouse rehash "The Further" from its Insidious franchise by way of Neil Gaiman's Coraline with a dash of Hellraiser II. Pure imagination? More like pure drivel.

Imaginary is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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