Imaginary Is a Surprise With Frightening Fun

Imaginary still of Alice (Pyper Braun) looking behind her at Chauncey, a teddy bear.

Imaginary is not a perfect film, but it is fun to watch with friends.

Audiences going into Imaginary will have more fun than they expected. The Blumhouse flick manages to be scary, piling on frights, laughs, and even a twist. The trailer does not do the movie justice, feeling like the movie will join tragic bombs like the first Annabelle. Instead, it pulls audiences in with tense scenes and carefully crafted jump scares. While a different ending and showing less of the monster would cement the film, Imaginary still turns up the entertainment in a fun, engaging way.

Directed by Jeff Wadlow and written by Wadlow, Greg Erb, and Jason Oremland, the movie centers around a step-family. The new mother, Jessica (DeWanda Wise), is at the center. She’s the latest addition to the home. Although her husband, Max (Tom Payne), is happy about the new situation as they move into Jessica’s brief childhood home, his teenage daughter, Taylor (Taegen Burns), is anything but joyous. The younger daughter, Alice (Pyper Braun), is more open but listens to her sister. Still, there’s a shared pain, as both daughters and Jessica experienced childhood trauma. Enter the childhood friend from hell to shake things up. 

Imaginary Builds Familial Tension 

As they move into Jessica’s childhood home, the situation quickly turns strange. Alice chats with her newfound imaginary friend. In any other situation, Jessica and Max sharing a smile as they hear Alice’s soft voice chatter away would engender smiles from the audience. But this is a horror movie and the first of many “uh-ohs.” The movie lets viewers infer an abusive past, but it’s also unclear what happened. Jessica has a scar from childhood, and Alice also has a scar, implying a connection from similar abusive childhoods. 

Imaginary still of Jessica (DeWanda Wise) scared in the dark.
Imaginary still of Jessica (DeWanda Wise). Photo Credit: Parrish Lewis. Courtesy of Lionsgate.

This part of the film is disappointing as they also depict the mother as someone with mental health issues. Depictions in films equating mental health to violence or abuse need to cease. It’s unnecessary in Imaginary. Jessica’s murky childhood memories about her brief life in the home do not require it. Just focus on her, the kids—as naturally, the dad, Max, goes on a work trip—and the oddball neighbor. 

Lurking in the Shadows Better Than Showing the Monster

A gradual fear builds as Alice plays with the teddy bear, Chauncy. Something about the eyes of stuffed toys looks soulless, all-knowing, and lurky. But the toy is not the only thing to fear. Imaginary makes terrific use of the terrifying presence looming in the background. Fortunately, it’s not all jump scares. Shadows and “what was that” moments pop up, making for an entertaining viewing experience with friends. It has those blink-and-miss-it moments that horror films need more of. 

Scary at Times, Fun Most of the Time

Imaginary still of Alice (Pyper Braun) looking behind her at Chauncey, a teddy bear.
Pyper Braun as Alice in Imaginary. Photo Credit: Parrish Lewis. Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Imaginary is not a perfect film, but it is fun to watch with friends. As the movie presses on, it’s clear that it does not take itself seriously. When the neighbor, Gloria (Betty Buckley), arrives, laughs ratchet up even more. The cast does a great job. DeWanda Wise brings some emotional depth to her character and the film. Betty Buckley is pure entertainment. There’s even a twist near the end that might surprise some moviegoers. 

Horror movies leaning into laughs work, but it’s a tightrope to achieve. Imaginary pulls it off despite its pitfalls. However, more practical effects, or even leaving the frights in the dark, would have heightened the scares. Also, the ending is pat and expected. It’s okay and gives some Poltergeist vibes. But an open-ending, done right, filled with uncertainty would provide that extra chill. Not as epic as M3gan or disjointed as Five Nights at Freddy’sImaginary is an engagement film wedged between the two. Viewers will point, scream, and laugh as scenes unfold, moving from creepy to ludicrous. It’s a fun time. 

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