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  • Nate Adams

'Imaginary' review: Try to imagine something better

Courtesy of Lionsgate


The premise of “Imaginary” is a rather good one, and writers Jeff Wadlow (who also directed), Greg Erb, and Jason Oremland deserve that much, but the execution, especially as it pertains to a convoluted narrative, could’ve used some, I dunno, imagination. Rather than lean into the script's strongest element-a teddy bear comes to life and stalks an unsuspecting household-”Imaginary” falls back on lame horror troupes, laughable dialogue, half-baked side characters, and a bewildering finale that creates an experience far from wondrous. Aside from some decent practical effects and commendable camera movements in the latter half, there’s not much creative flair. 

The story involves strange family dynamics from the start: It follows children’s author Jessica (DeWanda Wise) who desperately wants to connect with her stepchildren Taylor and Alice (Taegen Burns and Pyper Braun) after their biological mother was hospitalized for mental health issues. That crucial plot detail isn’t used in any meaningful way and is casually thrown into the movie for the sake of a juicy argument rather than an enhancing/teachable story development. The patriarch of the house, Max (Tom Payne) is also pretty useless, leaving about midway through to pursue his musical career while Jessica babysits. It’s almost as if the writers needed to come up with a quick way to get rid of him. 

Their family has moved into Jessica’s childhood home and with it comes a handful of memories, though she’s conveniently replaced the traumatic memories with those of happy ones, because if we knew about the bad ones, then “Imaginary” would have no place to go. And that journey begins when Alice stumbles upon a stuffed bear in the basement named Chauncey. Of course, what starts as a seemingly harmless child’s relationship with their stuffed animal predictably veers into sinister territory as the imaginary friend sends the young Alice on, among other things, a scavenger hunt from hell, and the family is left to pick up the pieces. 

There's no way you could guess where “Imaginary” takes its third act, but, without revealing too many details, let’s say its production design resembles a sadistic funhouse with various supernatural elements. With a tighter script, characters we cared about, and less investment in trying to conjure silly twists, this imaginary realm could have set the stage for a grand climax, but alas, it merely suggests ideas more than acting on them. Wadlow tries combating these problems by having characters, especially a wild Betty Buckey playing the neighborhood snoop Gloria, over-explain scenarios beyond the point of satire, but, as the credits roll, all you’re really left with is to imagine there was probably a more fulfilling way to use your time.

Grade: C- 

IMAGINARY is now playing in theaters. 


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