Imaginary (2024)

Imaginary Review

Imaginary (2024)

Once again, it’s a below-average day at the factory. The production line is running full tilt, but the machinery is about to fall apart. Blumhouse has become a franchise unto itself a branded string of low-budget movies that make money hand over fist, with quality control never having been more than an occasional afterthought and lately not even that.

On the first cursed weekend of 2023, M3gan defied expectations, both critical and financial. Then it was back to business as usual: a limp Insidious sequel here, a junky time-travel slasher there, an Exorcist reboot everyone hated (for good reason), a shockingly dull video-game adaptation nobody needed and most recently a soggy haunted-pool horror. But somehow this was worse than all of those and here it is: crash-landing into theaters hours before some preview audiences have started watching it. Teased by an audio-first trailer available only in cinemas far smarter than the movie itself, “Imaginary” is such a shameless grab bag of stolen parts clumsily stitched together that it’s amazing it’s even getting a theatrical release. Yes, studio horror might have lowered the bar further than ever but still: Wow.

I was kinder than many to writer-director Jeff Wadlow’s first Blumhouse effort, Truth or Dare gimmicky yet fun franchise non-starter that worked just about enough in a low-stakes kinda way; Final Destination for the sleepover crowd. But his follow-up “Fantasy Island” was an absolute mess just all over the place; trying and failing to do far too much. And there’s similar unearned confidence on display here: world-building done with an unsteady hand and an unfocused mind.

We begin in familiar genre territory as Jessica (DeWanda Wise) returns to her childhood home with new family in tow: husband Max (British actor Tom Payne) and his two children from a previous marriage. Both Jessica and Max have trauma in their past her absent father, his mentally unwell ex-wife and both are hoping that a fresh start will help them heal. But when youngest daughter Alice (Pyper Braun) finds an old teddy bear and names it her new imaginary friend Chauncey, things go south.

Red flags start to wave pretty early on bad acting giving way to even worse dialogue but the set-up is at least competent if entirely derivative, recalling 2005’s Robert De Niro thriller “Hide and Seek” as well as “Poltergeist,” M3gan; child falls into dangerous fantasy dragged deeper by nefarious presence. But like so many modern horror movies, it’s a logline on a napkin rather than a fully-formed script, and so when the plot eventually thickens the cracks become chasms and what might have been a two-star time-waster descends into one-star catastrophe.

Night Swim is another Blumhouse failure this year, alongside Imaginary, which seems like the kind of low-budget horror that would have filled video stores in decades past were it not for its almost self-parodic preoccupation with trauma a word that has spoiled many a recent horror movie. In the last act, when drip-drip creepiness turns to flash-flood chaos, it becomes a laughably incoherent string of question marks: How did they? How could she? What was that? It’s as if Wadlow and his co-writers Greg Erb and Jason Oremland were making it up as they went along sloppy enough to demand a refund from the studio but also a stern sense-checker for Wadlow.

There is such clunking gracelessness to the way rules are introduced (characters stumbling over nonsensical realizations and reveals) and such brazenness about copying other, better movies and shows. The list is too long to reproduce here but you can feel notes of “It,” “Beetlejuice,” “Housebound,” “Come Play” and especially “Stranger Things” not to mention a visual trick cribbed so directly from Henry Selick’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” that lawyers should be involved.

Wiseman can be an appealing presence elsewhere but there’s only so much that can be done with the suffocatingly soapy dialogue she has been given here, and she quickly gets lost in the murk around her. Not even the prospect of Betty Buckley playing a mysterious neighbor who rants feverishly about demonic mythology is as much fun as it sounds.

Wadlow has talked about wanting to make four-quadrant horror aimed at broader audiences i.e., more like what we got in the ’80s where scares functioned like roller coasters: exciting while they lasted but unlikely to leave a mark. It’s an admirable goal, and given how self-serious so many horror movies have become, there’s nothing wrong with aiming to be more fun. But “Imaginary” is too foolish and ungainly to move at the necessary speed or deliver the required thrills; it’s a theme-park ride that should be shut down for repairs.

Watch Imaginary For Free On Gomovies.

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