Movie Review: ‘Imaginary’ | Moviefone


Pyper Braun as Alice jn 'Imaginary.'

Pyper Braun as Alice jn ‘Imaginary.’ Photo Credit: Parrish Lewis.

Opening in theaters on March 8th, ‘Imaginary’ is the latest horror from the increasingly prolific –– and increasingly hit-or-miss Blumhouse team. Sadly, the story of a long-dormant childhood fear factor coming back to haunt a woman and her family is more firmly in the “miss” category.

While imaginary friends are clearly on filmmakers’ minds at the moment between this and John Krasinski’s upcoming, much more family-orientated ‘IF’, the new attempt at finding terror in the mundane-meets-the-metaphysical is more disappointing than most of Blumhouse’s recent efforts.

Related Article: Allison Williams Talks ‘M3GAN’ and working with director Gerard Johnstone

Does ‘Imaginary’ Dream Up Some Real Terror?

DeWanda Wise as Jessica in 'Imaginary.'

DeWanda Wise as Jessica in ‘Imaginary.’ Photo Credit: Parrish Lewis.

How much you appreciate ‘Imaginary’ might depend on your tolerance for seemingly endless passages of exposition delivered in the middle of scenes, effectively grinding the movie to a halt so someone can spout off about spirits and their filtering through different cultures.

It’s either that or some fairly rote frights blended awkwardly with mawkish bonding as a step-family learns to come together via the power of, er, a terrifying bear.

Script and Direction

DeWanda Wise as Jessica and Director Jeff Wadlow on the set of 'Imaginary.'

(L to R) DeWanda Wise as Jessica and Director Jeff Wadlow on the set of ‘Imaginary.’ Photo Credit: Parrish Lewis.

The script for this new horror movie is unfortunately one of its weakest points. Cranked out by Greg Erb and Jason Oremland alongside the film’s director, Jeff Wadlow, it’s an uneasy mish-mash of predictable plot points and even less surprising jump scares.

And the tone is all over the place; while it can be a good thing to spend some time setting up your characters, ‘Imaginary’ doesn’t boast particularly original examples in the first place, its dynamic built on over-used fractiousness between the members of this blended family. There’s plenty of scope for terror in the idea of danger lurking from someone’s past and haunting their present, but the concepts here have been brought to screens several times before in more original and satisfying fashion.

Even worse, there are glaring signposts all over the place, from the main character’s job (a children’s book writer/illustrator obsessed with a spider character and terrorized by a giant arachnid in her nightmares) to scenes of a child psychologist interviewing our heroine’s younger step daughter, only for things to take a disturbing turn.

There are ways to combine obvious elements in a way that feels fresh (see, for example, the ‘Spider-Verse’ movies, which take the endlessly-exploited Spider-Man origin and find new things to say, layering on extra emotion and meaning), but ‘Imaginary’ is content to stay simmering at a lukewarm pace and level of thoughtfulness.

Wadlow, meanwhile does himself and his cast no favors on the directing front. This is largely blandly shot, and while he looks to get experimental in the final act, even that is embarrassingly amateurish, a sort of Tim Burton-lite funhouse that even by Blumhouse’s tightly budgeted standards looks cheap and humiliating. Sure, it’s meant to be grown from children’s imagination, but did it need to look so shockingly low rent? And the less said about the final forms of the creatures, the better.


DeWanda Wise as Jessica and Pyper Braun as Alice in 'Imaginary.'

(L to R) DeWanda Wise as Jessica and Pyper Braun as Alice in ‘Imaginary.’ Photo Credit: Parrish Lewis.

Playing our main protagonist, conflicted stepmother Jessica, DeWanda Wise struggles with breathing life into such a blandly predictable character. She’s got the past emotional baggage, the distant, ailing father (if you don’t guess why he’s in the condition he is from the moment you meet him, shame on you), and entirely uninspiring issues with her current family. Wise is watchable, but even she can’t save this role.

As her youngest step-kid Alice, Pyper Braun does a serviceable enough job, working best when she’s channeling ‘The Exorcist’ for a “conversation” with seemingly haunted bear Chauncey in front of Dr. Soto (Veronica Falcón). A bundle of her own neuroses, Alice is a perfectly fine foil for the main threat, but even she’s mostly called upon to be sweet, pouty or scared in entirely basic fashion.

The less said about her teen sister Taylor, played by Taegen Burns, the better. It’s no fault of Burns, who is burdened with a completely cliché rebellious type who boringly wants to spend time with the hunky teenage boy next door or shout at Jessica that she’s not her real mom and shouldn’t look to replace her in Alice’s affections. There is something interesting to be mined in the portrayal of a young woman forced to grow up quicker than expected and care for her sister, but ‘Imaginary’ does so in utterly facile fashion.

Everyone else in the film is either an exposition spout or so paper thin (Tom Payne’s Max, who a musician who leaves to go on tour so quickly he might as well not be in the movie) that they barely register.

And Chauncey, the totem for the title’s not-so-imaginary being? He won’t replace M3GAN in anyone’s list of great horror characters.

Final Thoughts

Pyper Braun as Alice in 'Imaginary.'

Pyper Braun as Alice in ‘Imaginary.’ Photo Credit: Parrish Lewis.

Unlikely to end up on anyone’s list of best horror movies (though at least it has the completely disposable, low-rent likes of ‘Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey’ to compare favorably against in the pantheon of scare bears), ‘Imaginary’ has a couple of decent moments, but neither is enough to rescue it from coming across as a bargain bin horror.

Wadlow has made better horror before ‘Cry Wolf; for one, and even ‘Truth or Dare’ but this represents him on autopilot. Thinking it’ll make for a solid night of terror at the movies? You’re imagining things.

‘Imaginary’ receives 5 out of 10 stars.

“Meet Chauncey. He’s not imaginary. And he’s not your friend.”


PG-131 hr 44 minFeb 29th, 2024

Showtimes & Tickets

From Blumhouse, the genre-defining masterminds behind FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S and M3GAN, comes an original horror film that taps into the innocence of imaginary… Read the Plot

What’s the Story of ‘Imaginary’?

When Jessica (DeWanda Wise) returns to her childhood home with her family, she finds her old teddy bear, Chauncey, and sees that her youngest stepdaughter Alice (Pyper Braun) has grown attached to it.

After Alice’s behavior becomes concerning, and the games that she and Chauncey play turn increasingly sinister, Jessica starts realizing that Chauncey is much more than the stuffed bear she believed him to be for all those years…

Who Else is in ‘Imaginary’?

Wise and Braun are joined in the movie by Tom Payne, Betty Buckley, Taegen Burns, Matthew Sato, Verónica Falcón and Dane DiLiegro (who voices Chauncey).

Pyper Braun as Alice jn 'Imaginary.'

Pyper Braun as Alice jn ‘Imaginary.’ Photo Credit: Parrish Lewis.

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