May 20, 2024

IMAGINARY and the Snotty Teen Trope

2024 / 104 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

When I first saw the promotional one-sheet hanging in a theater lobby, my first thought was, “Blumhouse isn’t really putting out a horror movie about a killer stuffed bear, are they?” Then again, this is the same studio that recently belched-out a flick about a haunted swimming pool, so maybe it wasn’t such a stretch.

But about a half-hour into Imaginary, I found myself wishing it was about a killer stuffed bear, with snotty, eye-rolling emo teen Taylor (Taegen Burns) as its first victim. 

The snotty, eye-rolling emo teen is a tired trope that’s not only massively overused, it’s generally a strong indication that the entire movie will walk a familiar path. In horror, one of two fates befall snotty, eye-rolling emo teens: Either they die or, more often, have an epiphany over how snotty they’ve been to the protagonist. Either way, waiting for either requires a lot more patience than I want to endure.

In Imaginary, the object of Taylor’s wrath is stepmom Jessica (DeWanda Wise), a successful children’s book author who had the audacity to marry her dad (Tom Payne), then show nothing but kindness to her and little sister Alice (Pyper Braun). That relationship gets even rockier when the family moves into Jessica’s old childhood home, though Jessica was actually sent away to her grandmother’s at age five after Mom died and Dad went crazy.

Bear Noir
Of course, Dad’s fate and Jessica’s childhood trauma soon become narratively relevant. In the meantime, little Alice finds an old stuffed bear behind a wall in the cellar, which she names Chauncy. At first, Jessica thinks Alice’s playtime with her new imaginary friend is cute, such as the little scavenger hunts “instigated” by the bear. But it isn’t long before Alice’s behavior drastically changes and Chauncy reveals his sinister side. In one admittedly great sequence, he terrorizes the obnoxious teenage kid from next door. Genuinely suspenseful and well-executed, the scene briefly has the viewer holding out hope that the movie might turn out to be pretty cool after all.

Unfortunately, it turns out the imaginary friend is some kind of monstrous entity from Jessica’s own childhood, who snatches kids away to the ‘Never Ever,’ some kind of labyrinthine netherworld (alas…no killer stuffed bear). It’s at this point where Imaginary also commits one of the most egregious sins in horror: Virtually all of the backstory and missing pieces to the narrative are provided through lengthy verbal exposition. Worse yet, it’s explained by a secondary character, Jessica’s eccentric neighbor and former babysitter Gloria (Betty Buckley, channeling the same old loon she played in The Happening). Until then, she hadn’t even been a factor in the story. 

That’s a lot more plot, backstory and world-building than a movie like this needs, especially since most of it is highly derivative. What was wrong with simply having a disgruntled bear? Decent performances help a little (even Burns makes a convincing snotty, eye-rolling emo teen), as does attractive production design depicting the Never Ever. But for a horror movie called Imaginary, there ain’t much horror or imagination. 


IMAGINARY: EXPLORING THE NEVER EVER - An pretty decent making-of featurette with cast/crew interviews.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow & actor/exec producer DeWanda Wise.

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