Combustible Celluloid Review - Imaginary (2024), Greg Erb, Jason Oremland, Jeff Wadlow, Jeff Wadlow, DeWanda Wise, Taegen Burns, Pyper Braun, Betty Buckley, Tom Payne, Veronica Falcón, Samuel Salary, Matthew Sato, Alix Angelis
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With: DeWanda Wise, Taegen Burns, Pyper Braun, Betty Buckley, Tom Payne, Veronica Falcón, Samuel Salary, Matthew Sato, Alix Angelis
Written by: Greg Erb, Jason Oremland, Jeff Wadlow
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violent content, drug material and language
Running Time: 104
Date: 03/08/2024
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Imaginary (2024)

2 Stars (out of 4)

A Ghost of a Chauncey

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The mostly terrible horror movie Imaginary relies on chunks of ideas recycled from older movies, several predictable jump-scares, and a monster lore that wobbles all over the place and makes little sense.

Children's author Jessica (DeWanda Wise) is having trouble with nightmares. She is preparing to move with her new family — husband Max (Tom Payne) and his two girls from a previous marriage, teen Taylor (Taegen Burns) and young Alice (Pyper Braun) — into her childhood house. Once there, the nightmares stop, but other strange things begin to happen.

Alice finds a Teddy Bear called "Chauncey" and makes it her imaginary friend. Alice begins to play a Scavenger Hunt game with Chauncey that requires her to do odd things, like hurting herself. A child therapist (Veronica Falcón) is called in, but the more they dig, they more they discover that Chauncey is somehow connected to Jessica.

Directed by Jeff Wadlow, Imaginary begins with a cheat of an opener, a sequence involving a giant spider attack that is — guess? — only a dream.

Once it gets going, the movie has trouble establishing exactly what we're facing here. It could be the Teddy Bear, or it could be the creepy-looking blurry figures that leer at us and bear their teeth in the dark backgrounds, or it could be the spider, or it could be a giant, demonic version of the bear, or it could be another monster, which incorporates the collected imaginations of millions of children.

This movie doesn't know what it wants, and in the end, saddled with a PG-13 rating, can't summon up much more than a handful of dumb jump-scares, half of them "fake" ones intended to make us jump and then laugh (neither of which is likely to happen). Viewers will spend at least several minutes recalling earlier movies that did all this stuff better.

At least the family dynamic — with stepmom Jessica trying to relate to and communicate with her new stepdaughters — feels fairly close. But Imaginary is overall an opportunistic movie that didn't bother with creating a story before it went in front of the cameras.

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