Imaginary Review

Children’s author Jessica (DeWanda Wise) moves back to her childhood home with husband Max (Tom Payne) and her stepchildren. Youngest daughter Alice (Pyper Braun) quickly becomes infatuated with Chauncey, a teddy bear she finds in the basement. But her relationship with this imaginary friend soon takes a disturbing turn.

by John Nugent |
Published on
Release Date:

08 Mar 2024

Original Title:


Blumhouse is a horror force to be reckoned with. Its unique, industry-disrupting business model — give up-and-coming horror directors a shot at the big time; keep the budgets modest; profit? — has been hugely successful, and it’s proved to be an important launchpad for filmmakers like Jordan Peele, Rob Savage, Mike Flanagan, Nikyatu Jusu, Nahnatchka Khan, Christopher Landon, and more. But with that model perhaps comes a certain expectation of volume. Imaginary is the studio’s eighth film to be released in the past 12 months, and while it is not a complete nightmare, lately it’s hard not to feel quantity being favoured over quality.


Directed by Blumhouse alumnus Jeff Wadlow (2018’s Truth Or Dare), Imaginary seems at first glance to be one of those horrors attempting to introduce some spooky iconography. Chauncey the teddy bear is presented as a kind of cross between two Pixar characters: Toy Story’s evil Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear and Inside Out’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (the latter is in fact frequently referenced throughout). But the film doesn’t quite have the sense of how to make Chauncey feel iconic or portentous enough — ending up more like Fozzie from The Muppets than Billy The Puppet from Saw.

Instead, what follows is rote horror tropes: a creepy kid; a spooky old house; a dingy basement with flickering lights; and ‘trauma’, the thing that all modern horrors must apparently be underpinned by. Indeed, there’s more trauma here than the film knows what to do with. Illustrator and author Jessica (DeWanda Wise) is haunted by the memory of her mother’s death from cancer; her father has been institutionalised (and appears in her dreams, with spooky spiders); she is insecure about step-children learning to accept her as a parental figure; and their biological mother is, also, dangerously disturbed.

The imaginary friends are simply not that scary.

So, with a vague theme of parental anxiety, Jessica frets and worries as youngest stepdaughter Alice (Pyper Braun) spends a little bit too much time with Chauncey the teddy, and eventually some supernatural secrets begin to emerge. Some of the these secrets come from one of the world’s worst child psychologists, who breaks patient confidentiality in order to forward the plot; some come from an eye-rolling ‘twist’, if you can even call it that; and some come from Jessica’s neighbour, an elderly woman named Gloria (Betty Buckley), who might as well be called Basil Exposition, with lines of dialogue like, “Every culture has a name for it... the Spanish call it ‘El Coco’...”

Nothing here is especially awful and the cast, Wise especially, are not really to blame. Everything just feels a bit flat. It’s not particularly long but it moves at a tedious pace. Dialogue is tired and thoughtless. The visuals are dull and repetitive; some impressive M.C. Escher-inspired production design does come through in the more fantastical final act, but even this feels too little and too late.

Most crushingly, the imaginary friends, the evil spirits, the things that the Spanish call ‘El Coco’ — they’re simply not that scary. They never quite land. It all feels like something we’ve seen before, executed so much better. There’s much talk of superhero fatigue at the moment, but at this rate, maybe we need to start worrying about horror fatigue, too.

Not a total catastrophe, but perilously close to being one. Is it too obvious to say Imaginary is simply lacking in imagination?
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