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Release Date: 03/08/24 [Cinemas]
Genre: Horror. Mystery. Thriller.

Studio: Lionsgate. 

"A woman returns to her childhood home to discover that the imaginary friend she left behind is very real and unhappy that she abandoned him." 


It’s hard to imagine that the same filmmaker behind some of the worst horror films of the last few years could return with another stinker, but here we are. Fittingly enough, the latest film is called Imaginary.

The film follows a woman who moves back into her childhood home with her new husband and his two daughters. Having been displaced from the home as a child, after her father suffered a medical episode, this is supposed to be a happy homecoming. But when one of her stepdaughters finds a random stuffed bear, and dubs it her imaginary friend, strange things begin to happen. 

Admittedly, the premise is great. The idea that imaginary friends could be actual spirits that only kids can see is ripe for a horror film. But like Fantasy Island, and Truth or Dare before that, under Jeff Wadlow’s tutelage this film never becomes anything more than a jumbled mess of ideas.

There are a lot of things happening in this film. For starters, the protagonist (played by DeWanda Wise) is a children’s book author with a keen imagination. In the midst of this move, she’s trying to finish her latest book in a series about a giant friendly millipede and spider. At the same time she’s having visions of a giant spider haunting her. What for? The best possible answer is because it looks scary. Other than that, it’s never explained.

Additionally, Wise’s character is eager to come back to her childhood home, but only because she misses it. While that’s fine, as the audience comes to find out, nothing good happened to her there. Not only does she “run away” from the house as a child (for reasons that actually do become clear), but her father also went crazy there, and she remembers him leaving her with physical bruises. From a rational point of view, it just doesn’t make sense for anyone who experienced trauma to go back to the scene of the crime - and especially not so willingly. Here, it’s clear that’s just a cheap way to trigger some of the film’s other plot points.

Now, both of the stepdaughters in the movie have similarly dealt with abuse at the hands of a parent. It’s revealed that their mother also went crazy, abused them and is currently hospitalized. While the idea of having the characters bond over that trauma is ripe for a good story, once again the film also only scratches the surface. Instead, the mom is only ever used as one of the evil entity’s many faces to conceal its true form.

That entity, primarily referred to as Chauncey in the film, had the potential to be one of Blumhouse’s most horrifying original antagonists to date. The fact that the film spends so much time teasing how he could take any form only adds to the final reveal. But that feeling of dread disappears entirely when it’s revealed that Chauncey is just a person in a giant bear suit. What’s even more of a letdown is the way the film goes out of its way to show us how other children have also encountered evil entities disguising themselves as imaginary friends. It establishes this cool idea that Chauncey is a part of a network that is accessible to any child, therefore the evil is almost unavoidable. Yet, in the film’s ridiculous climax, when our protagonist has to face Chauncey head on in the literal world of make believe (which is clearly just a rip-off M.C. Escher’s “Relativity”) Chauncey is the only entity there. Could he really be the only imaginary friend in the world? Sadly, that’s one of the few definitive answers the film offers in the form of its crappy cliffhanger.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, there is a twist so dumb halfway through that is clearly designed to try to pull the rug from under the audience. Rather than grip your chin and gasp at Wadlow and company’s attempt to be clever, however, it just might  induce an aneurysm because of how little sense it actually makes.

Granted, Wadlow’s direction isn’t awful. The film is shot well. There is even one genuine jump scare that most audiences won’t see coming. Given his track record though, and the fact that he is one of three co-writers, it’s hard to absolve him from how horrible the entire product is.

In a few weeks there'll be another film about imaginary friends in theaters, John Krasinski’s IF. While studio’s make competing films all the time, here it’s impossible to tell if this film was made to capitalize on that or because someone thought this was actually a good idea. Regardless, a combination of poor writing and execution all but ensure that Imaginary will go down as one of the worst films of the year and one of the worst in Blumhouse’s catalog. That, you can’t make up.

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