Imaginary – Film Review

One of the most powerful aspects of a child’s mind is their imagination. The boundless possibilities that playing pretend and make believe can turn every day into an adventure. For some creative people, their imagination never went away, just like Jessica (DeWanda Wise) in the movie Imaginary.

As author of the hugely successful ‘Molly Millipede’ series of children’s picture books Jessica has made imagination her lifetime gig. However, at the moment she is in the much harder role, that of the new stepmother. The love of her husband Max (Tom Payne) is unquestioned; however, she struggles to bond with his two daughters consisting of the teenaged Taylor (Taegen Burns) who acts out, and the much younger Alice (Pyper Braun) who is still withdrawn due to abuse from her birth mother. Starting their new life together, the family move into Jessica‘s childhood home following her father being sent to a care hospital.

While playing hide and seek, Alice finds Jessica‘s old teddy bear, Chauncey and is immediately smitten. Talking to it as her imaginary friend seems to bring her out of her shell at first. But soon Alice‘s behaviour begins to grow more and more bizarre. To make things worse, Jessica starts seeing and hearing disturbing things around the house. It could just be that hyperactive imagination of hers in full gear. Or it could be that Chauncey isn’t so imaginary after all and is not happy with being abandoned all those years ago.

Imaginary is the latest from the prolific horror and supernatural thriller movie studio Blumhouse Productions. Producer Jason Blum teams up once more with writer and director Jeff Wadlow, after finding massive success with Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island. For their next outing, they plan to explore what every good storyteller knows: the scariest thing in the world is sometimes is our own imagination.

I was quite a fan of the pair’s previous outings, being the sort of high concept thrillers that Blumhouse has become known for. Imaginary features a similarly ambitious idea which has a distinctly 80s horror film vibe to it. Wadlow has made it known that he took inspiration from 1982’s Poltergeist and this becomes clear the more Imaginary ramps up.

As far as scares go, Imaginary is no slouch with some of the earliest jump moments being its most effective, leaning into the idea of imagining the monster in the closet being much more terrifying than actually seeing it. So, on the other hand when Imaginary comes to its final act, while an interesting concept it is not particularly terrifying. The mystery is further shattered by the neighbour character Gloria (Betty Buckley), delivering forced exposition to catch the audience up on exactly what’s going on.

Throughout Imaginary, an idea of a perfect family is played with as Jessica tries her hardest to make connections with her stepchildren. At the same time, trauma from her own past echoes what Alice has gone through. Wise and Braun give excellent performances here, particularly Braun whose innocence makes Chauncey all the more disturbing. Thankfully, Taegen Burns has a lot more to do with his character Taylor later on in the film, however Tom Payne’s Max sadly feels pushed aside altogether.

The mother-daughter dynamic is much better portrayed through Jessica and Alice anyway and this is where the film is at its most interesting. As Alice‘s troubles begin to show, Jessica is forced to take off the rose tinted glasses, accepting her own past in the process. The intergenerational connection that these two dreamers have is rife with potential and feels very Stephen King-like.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only part in Imaginary that reminds me of Stephen King and elements of the film feel very similar to other popular supernatural thrillers. IT, The Conjuring, Stranger Things, even Coraline. If you are a fan of these types of films, you may find that Imaginary seems ironically very thin on imagination of its own.

Despite feeling a little derivative at times, Imaginary is still another entertaining movie from Blumhouse and Wadlow. The film’s female lead stars breathe authenticity into the premise and Chauncey is legitimately creepy. Imaginary’s story just falls short of treading new ground which would have set it apart from the horror classics that inspired it.

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