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March 8, 2024 / Cineplex Pictures

Starring: DeWanda Wise, Tom Payne, Taegan Burns, Pyper Braun, Veronica Falcón, Betty Buckley

Directed By: Jeff Wadlow

When Jessica (DeWanda Wise) moves back into her childhood home with her family, her youngest stepdaughter Alice (Pyper Braun) develops an eerie attachment to a stuffed bear named Chauncey she finds in the basement. Alice starts playing games with Chauncey that begin playful and become increasingly sinister.

As Alice’s behavior becomes more and more concerning, Jessica intervenes only to realize Chauncey is much more than the stuffed toy bear she believed him to be.

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Imaginary will instantly get under your skin with its unsettling tale of a deadly imaginary friend that combines a compelling performance from DeWanda Wise, an intriguing story that never fails to hold your attention from Jeff Wadlow, and great practical effects to deliver this modest horror film.

Blumhouse has helped bring some of the most memorable horror villains to the big screen over the past decade, whether it be new characters like the Armitage family in Get Out, M3GAN in M3GAN, and the Bride in Black in the Insidious series, or bringing back iconic characters from the genre’s past such as Michael Meyers with the new Halloween trilogy or Pazuzu in last year’s The Exorcist: Believer. And joining these ranks is the adorable yet deadly stuffed animal Chauncey Bear in their latest film Imaginary. After the last three films from Blumhouse that failed to even remotely entertain me, it was nice to see them champion an original horror idea instead of IP in this familiar but entertaining horror film that though it is not one of the studio’s greatest by any means, makes for a fun addition to their extensive catalog of titles.

If you had told me that this film was written and directed by the same man who was responsible for both Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island, two of my least favourite films from Blumhouse Productions (though I would have liked to see the canceled meta-sequel to Truth or Dare with the film’s cast playing themselves in a New Nightmare-esque tale), I would have probably passed on watching this. Luckily I did not know that walking into Imaginary, and I found myself to be quite taken by the film’s story. Even though it was highly reminiscent of Insidious, one of my all time favourite horror films and one of Blumhouse’s finest films, there are some great ideas at play in Imaginary that make for an entertaining watch: childhood imaginary friends that are actually sinister monsters from another realm, repressed childhood trauma and a slightly unstable person devoted to studying them. While they may not be the most original ideas, writer and director Jeff Wadlow ties them all together in a quick paced, relatively short film that will keep you engaged from start to finish. There are some decent twists and turns along the way that, while predictable, keep the experience interesting from start to finish. The jump scares are a little light in the first two acts, but the ones it has are effective, all slowly building to the film’s final act where Chauncey unleashes his full power. Thai results in an exciting conclusion to the film that is full of scares and spine tingling moments that will have you squirming in and occasionally jumping out of your seat.

Leading the film and pulling double duty as producer is DeWanda Wise, and she gives the role of Jessica her all. Wise pours her heart into her performance as she crafts this woman trying to forge relationships with her new stepdaughters, dealing with nightmares from her childhood, and adjusting to a new life back in the home she grew up in for the first five years of her life before being taken away from her father. After playing pivotal supporting roles the past few years in films such as Jurassic World: Dominion, Poolman and Fatherhood, Wise is given a meaty lead role that she devours. She draws the audience into her character’s pain, while creating a strong lead for the film that you cannot help but root for. It’s a great performance from Wise that will hopefully lead to bigger starring roles for her.

Seeing Betty Buckley in a horror movie is fun, and clearly she was having a great time as Gloria, even if her character is a very derivative and stereotypical role within the horror genre. Pyper Braun is adorable as Alice, capably handling the scarier elements while capturing that childhood wonder that allows you to believe in imaginary friends, while Taegen Burns and Matthew Sato are good as the film’s two young teenagers. Being a fan of Tom Payne on the short lived television series Prodigal Son, I enjoyed seeing him on the big screen as Jessica’s husband Max, and while he is good in the film, his role really only exists in the film’s first act before his character is written to be out of the house for the majority of the second and third act as Chauncey makes his move against Jessica and his character’s two daughters.

As with so many memorable horror films, what truly brings Imaginary to life is the visual effects that bring Chauncey and the nightmarish world he is from. It’s instantly clear that there is an emphasis on practical effects for Chauncey in both the teddy bear form and the monstrous version of the imaginary friend that we finally meet in the film’s final act, portrayed very well by Dane DiLiegro, which adds a true element of fear to the film. There are moments of CGI, but they are only used to elevate the moments of terror created by practical effects and never to drive these moments. Instead, smart lighting and camera choices are used to instill fear in the viewing experience, while the set design for Chauncey’s world in the final act is stunning. It’s a testament to lower budget horror filmmaking, proving that sometimes having less resources to work with and forcing stronger creative choices more often than not leads to a better horror film.

It’s always a treat when there is a decent new horror film released, especially one that knows how to both have fun with the audience by including them in the joke and sending chills down their spine at the same time. And that is exactly what Imaginary does very well. You know the direction the story is heading, you can’t help but gleefully giggle as Chauncey makes his move on his earlier victims, but by the time the final act arrives, your heart will be racing. Led by a fearless performance from DeWanda Wise with impressive practical effects to bring to life Chauncey Bear, Imaginary has the perfect amount of jump scares to entertain audiences that welcomes a new memorable villain to the Blumhouse family.

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