Imaginary: Imaginary Friends, Creepy Kids and Unfulfilled Potential

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Iain McParland
| March 23, 2024
hello world!

And it’s just my imagination. Running away with me. And it’s just my imaginaaaaattionnn. Running… away with me!

There. Now you have it in your head too.

Imaginary, the new film from acclaimed horror studio Blumhouse, asks the question: what if your imaginary friend as a child wasn’t really your friend? Scary, right? A being only you can see who pretends to be your pal so it can take advantage of your childlike innocence and creativity. 

Mostly, that’s exactly what I saw. A creepy, tense movie that had me sitting back in my chair, ready to cover my eyes with my fingers. If I had brought a cushion into the theater, I would have placed it at arm’s reach. 

Until the last half an hour. 

Because Imaginary needed to take inspiration from its title and leave more to the imagination. Maybe then, it could have stuck its landing.

Story

Jessica (DeWanda Wise), a children’s book author, and her new step family, Alice (Pyper Braun), Taylor (Taegen Burns) and husband Max (Tom Payne) move back to her childhood home for a fresh start. But the house holds a dark secret, one that Jessica has conveniently repressed like I would like to repress watching Madame Web

Before long, Alice, during an extremely one-sided game of hide-and-go-seek, discovers a stuffed bear in the basement (WHY GO DOWN TO THE CREEPY BASEMENT, ALICE??). Its name is Chauncey, and it wants to be her friend. It needs to be her friend. And they are going to be happy together forever, and ever, and ever, and ever… 

Can Jessica uncover her repressed memories and help Alice grow past having “imaginary” friends? Or will the bond be too strong to break?

The Good

Sitting comfortably, Chauncey?

It was a game of two halves. The first 75 minutes were awesome. Director Jeff Wadlow did a terrific job building suspense, not needing to rely on cheap jumpscares. There is one notable jumpscare that was excellently executed and had me leaping to the moon, but it was the atmosphere which did the heavy lifting. The crescendo of tension was felt throughout the film. 

I find it most effective when you don’t see things coming… until you do. Figures camouflaged in the background, and then they move. Whispers from behind a door from an unexpected voice when Alice is hosting a tea party. A GOD DAMN INANIMATE OBJECT following you with its beady eyes. They’re the kind of techniques Mike Flanagan used in The Haunting of Hill House. Masterful. 

The concept is pretty sinister. One feature in films that causes my nerves to jangle is creepy little kids singing creepy little songs (I see you Samara from The Ring). There was no singing in this one (although there’s an unsettling melody), but there is an innocent child acting strangely. That’s not great for me. The corruption of innocence is unnerving. 

Imaginary friend horror seems fairly untapped, and this does a good job. I mean, if everyone doesn’t see the thing trying to hurt you, then how can they help? You’re alone. And loneliness and the feeling of isolation is the companion to good horror movies. Chauncey Bear makes young Alice rely on him, pushes away her family and turns on her like a psychopath. The premise is solid. 

For the first 75 minutes.

The Not So Good

Erm. No. No, I don’t think so.

OK, so let’s talk about the end of the film. I’m disappointed it didn’t stick the landing after such good work had been done to build and build the suspense and tension. It just dissipates. The conclusion becomes more of a family-friendly ending to a slightly scary fantasy movie. Think moderately more fear-inducing than Labyrinth and you’re almost there.

You can make that comparison in multiple ways. Because when you see the full form of Chauncey, it looks like it could have been created in the workshop of the Goblin King. Imaginary suffers from what I like to call Jeepers Creepers Collapse. Once you see the antagonizing monster in all its glory, in decent lighting, the terror you once felt transforms into a sigh. 

Is that it? That looks dumb. Why was I scared at all? Sometimes less is more, and I could have done with seeing less of Chauncey. 

Summary

I don’t like being on camera either

Imaginary has some cool concepts and genuinely tense moments. It’s creepy in all of the right ways, using childlike innocence to its advantage. Imaginary friends are a relatively untapped horror market, and I really enjoyed what the film was doing. 

Until I didn’t. In the final stretch, Imaginary stumbled over the finish line. All of the good work it had done to build suspense was undone in an instant. I felt my butt unclench that very moment, and it never twitched again. 

However, I still enjoyed this film, what it attempted to do and how it executed the majority of its concept. 

I just wish it stuck the landing a bit better.

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