Review: Imaginary


By this point in our lives, we should all know what to expect from Blumhouse as a production company. Most of its offerings are low-budget affairs that only need to make a few million to break even, with each film containing a gimmick that varies wildly in terms of quality. Cheaply made horror movies have always been a thing and to Blumhouse’s credit, not all of its movies are worthless trash, or even cheaply made for that matter. Films like Get Out, The Invisible Man, and Happy Death Day all have their charms and are solid horror movies that used their smaller budgets effectively to great results. And then you have Imaginary, which is not one of those movies.

Imaginary, in theory, is a decent enough premise for a horror movie. A movie where an imaginary friend stalks a family and uses a child’s imagination to strengthen their own powers has a fair bit of potential. But then you start to realize that not only is this a PG-13 horror movie, which limits just how much you can show, but that it’s made by Jeff Wadlow, a man who made some of the worst horror movies of the past decade, and was released just after Dune Part II released, a film that will assert itself on top of the box office for the foreseeable future.

All of the signs are there that there wasn’t much hope for this film, but at the very least it kind of made me laugh a bit. Kind of?

Imaginary (2024) New Trailer – DeWanda Wise, Tom Payne, Taegen Burns, Pyper Braun

Director: Jeff Wadlow

Release Date: March 8, 2024 (Theatrical)
Rating: PG-13

Jessica (DeWanda Wise) is a children’s author who just moved back into her childhood home with her family. Her two step-children have differing thoughts on her, with the youngest daughter, Alice (Pyper Braun), wanting nothing more than a mother figure while the older daughter, Taylor (Taegen Burns), wants nothing to do with her. While exploring her mom’s old house, Alice comes across a teddy bear named Chauncey in the basement that she begins to play with. She thinks of Chauncey as her imaginary friend, but when Chauncey starts asking her to do unusual things like collect bugs or hurt herself, Jessica takes notice and tries to get rid of the stuffed bear. Unfortunately, Chauncey isn’t going anywhere and Chauncey may have some unsavory connections to Jessica’s childhood, making everyone’s lives a living hell.

For a movie centered around the power of a child’s imagination, it’s disappointing that Imaginary lacks any imagination. We’ve seen horror movies before that execute a lot of the same ideas that Imaginary does and they do it so much better. Imaginary has a gimmick, much like any other lazy Blumhouse movie, and rides that for the entire 90-minute runtime. This is a movie about an evil teddy bear. Not a killer teddy bear, just a teddy bear that wants to kidnap the children that it becomes friends with. There’s plenty of folklore surrounding children and magical creatures and how you should never trust or interact with them, stories that are mentioned within the film, but this feels like the film’s concept began and ended there with nothing else to keep it afloat.

The film is a bit of a jumbled mess, with moments happening that don’t feel like they’ve been properly developed. Characters will become upset at each other despite only having a scene or two of interaction. Taylor is probably the worst offender with this because so much of her character is reliant on being an angsty teenager yet the script doesn’t justify her negativity except for maybe one moment early in the film. There’s an entire backstory that Taylor and Alice have with their biological mother, yet we only learn about it during the exact moment and never come back to it. It feels like it was supposed to be a bigger part of the film given how it plays into the film’s climax but instead feels like most of it was scrapped at the last second for no apparent reason.

Review: Imaginary

Copyright: Blumhouse, Lionsgate

That leads to a general problem with how Imaginary functions. So much of the film revolves around Jessica, Alice, and Taylor that when side characters are introduced, their appearances amount to nothing. There’s a teenage boy that Taylor is crushing on, but he disappears from the film after his second scene. Betty Buckley is an eccentric author who lives down the street and is only present in three scenes before being unceremoniously tossed aside. Jessica’s husband is written out of the film after 30 minutes. I understand if a film wants to focus on its main characters, but Imaginary is actively hostile to anyone else to the detriment of its core cast. Without a supporting cast, you’ll either become sick of the three lead actresses or become bored by them. It’s hard to be affected by a horror movie when you can barely care about what you’re watching.

When there are scary moments, they’re mixed at best. I actually liked it when we saw Chauncey’s more threatening feral form, not only because it’s decidedly creepy, but because it was made with practical effects, something I will always give praise for when done well. He looks suitably intimidating and is a creature I don’t want to see staring at me in the middle of the night. The rest of the creatures you see are standard CGI ghoulies that just scream and run at the camera and offer no substance other than to just be a monster to up the scare quota. I know how difficult it is to make a movie about an evil teddy bear scary, but if the film is struggling to even make something like that threatening, then maybe Wadlow and crew should have gone with another concept.

It seems to me like Wadlow is all about trying to make this into a franchise though. The last third of the movie feels less like a climax and more like a set-up for a larger Imaginary franchise. That’s nice and all, but it totally forgets that the movie it’s set in also has to be good. It comes across like a safer version of The Further from Insidious, complete with a distorted spirit world inhabited by monsters and spirits. The film, or rather Betty Buckley’s character, touts all of the potential that can be inside of this realm of psychological wonder but doesn’t actually do anything with this concept. It almost did something kind of neat and had a subversive ending where our heroes failed, which I would have respected the hell out of, only to instead chicken out and give a more general and generic open ending. By the end, it’s just another basic modern horror movie.

Review: Imaginary

Copyright: Blumhouse, Lionsgate

At the very least, basic Blumhouse horror films like M3GAN had a relatively interesting central character and gimmick to keep me entertained. Sure, Megan was just a pastiche of Chucky, but there was enough there to make her feel different and when she went full slasher villain it led to some pretty memorable and laughable moments. But Chauncey is no Megan. Chauncey has nothing going for him other than a creepy physical costume, but that’s not enough to sustain an entire movie. It even feels like the film itself is having a tough time existing. Obvious cuts were made in order to, I assume, pick up the pace, but it doesn’t stop Imaginary from still feeling like it drags.

I’ll be upfront, this isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen so far this year, but in a year where I’ve actively disliked more films than I liked, that’s not saying much. While I’m going to remember bad movies such as Argyle and Drive-Away DollsI get the feeling that Imaginary is going to be a movie I forgot I saw a month from now. It has nothing for me to remember other than some decent practical effects and a weird-as-hell Betty Buckley performance, but that’s about it. I was more bored by Imaginary than anything else, which isn’t the worst sin a film could commit, but a sin is still a sin.

There’s a good movie here somewhere, but it certainly isn’t the one I saw.




It's more boring than bad, but Imaginary offers very little to keep horror fans entertained and by the end any hope of a larger franchise just seems misguided.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.