Imaginary Review – Blumhouse Horror Movie Plays it Safe

Horror


The Curse of Bridge Hollow and Fantasy Island director Jeff Wadlow’s Imaginary adheres to the time-honored tradition of transforming make-believe childhood pals into sinister manifestations that torment their abandoners. Here, a cuddly teddy bear named Chauncey harbors dangerous resentment for being forgotten, igniting a wave of terror for an unsuspecting family. If only that terror extended to the audience experience.

A cold open teases the monstrous imaginary friend via nightmare sequence before introducing the central family unit. Jessica (DeWanda Wise), along with her husband (Tom Payne) and stepchildren Taylor (Taegen Burns) and Alice (Pyper Braun), relocate from their hectic New Orleans apartment to Jessica’s childhood home in the suburbs. Typical growing pains and adjusting to a new town are compounded by dark family histories. Then Alice finds a cute teddy bear named Chauncey in the basement, which will force Jessica to confront painful memories when Alice starts behaving strangely.

Imaginary Immersive Horror

DeWanda Wise as Jessica in Imaginary. Photo Credit: Parrish Lewis

Wadlow, who co-wrote the script with Jason Oremland and Greg Erb, adheres to the well-trodden path of a young child falling under the sway of their mysterious new friend, complete with familiar scare tactics. Save for one fake-out moment executed by Braun, the scares fall flat here. The musical stingers are largely absent, and without any tightening of tension, the punchlines induce incredulity instead of goosebumps. And that extends to the plot, too.

DeWanda Wise earns easy rooting interest for infusing Jessica with unwavering empathy, no matter the trials and tribulations that Imaginary throws at her. Or rather forces upon her; the friction between Taylor and Jessica is a manufactured focal point. But most characters aren’t fleshed out enough to earn the same interest. Taegen Burns is relegated to archetypical rebellious teen, the contrivances to get Jessica’s husband out of the equation are absurd, and Pyper Braun maintains a precocious spirit even when Alice is nothing more than a plot prop. The worst is that Imaginary delegates the unenviable task of wacky exposition delivery to Betty Buckley as the crazed neighbor who knows far more about Jessica’s family than she should. Not even Buckley’s talents can make her character arc work. The plot only grows more preposterous as the runtime wears on, which can feel sluggish with the scares so scarce.

'Imaginary' Trailer - Demonic Bear and Other Creepy Entities Come to Life

Where Imaginary does shine, though, is in its commitment to doing as much as possible practically. Chauncey the bear displays many emotions through articulated animatronics brought to life by the award-winning SFX house Spectral Motion. Even Chauncey’s more monstrous iterations, like the Chauncey Beast (Prey’s Dane DiLiegro), give the central cast plenty to work with in the third act’s venture into the “Never Ever.”

More than just a familiar entry in horror, Imaginary is the type of silly that doesn’t even work on a gateway horror level. The protagonist’s adult worries and themes of mental illness are in stark contrast to the adorable Chauncey and his childlike nature. The stakes feel low, the scares are too toothless, and the plotting feels more algorithm-based than organic. Worst of all, though, is the way Imaginary squanders the creative potential in its approach to the limitless concept of imagination. Despite the dialogue constantly reinforcing the boundless creativity of its heroine, Imaginary is rather low on imagination of its own, instead opting to chart a safe course filled with familiar tropes and scare trappings.

Imaginary releases in theaters on March 8, 2024.

1.5 out of 5 skulls



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