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DeWanda Wise as Jessica and Pyper Braun as Alice in Imaginary.Parrish Lewis/Lionsgate/Lionsgate


Directed by Jeff Wadlow

Written by Jeff Wadlow, Greg Erb and Jason Oremland

Starring DeWanda Wise, Pyper Braun and Betty Buckley

Classification PG; 104 minutes

Opens in theatres March 8

Imaginary, you are no M3GAN.

Yes, the latest film from producer Jason Blum’s horror factory arrives in theatres this weekend with a killer marketing campaign designed to convince audiences that this film’s evil teddy bear is the second coming of last year’s homicidal-doll (homici-doll?) sensation M3GAN. But while both films feature children’s toys whose switches have been firmly flipped to “evil,” Imaginary is as dour a slog as M3GAN was a bloody bit of self-aware camp.

At least Imaginary director Jeff Wadlow does well on the prop front, securing a stuffed animal that is creepy in its simplicity. With two little black eyes, a tightly pursed mouth and ever-so-slightly pilled fabric, the cute little Chauncey Bear carries a sinister kind of charm. I mean, what kid wouldn’t bat an eye when the stuffie mysteriously appears out of nowhere in the creepy basement of a clearly haunted suburban home?

Perhaps a smarter child than the young Alice (Pyper Braun) would’ve left the bear be, but then again, the youngster is dealing with bigger problems than teddies materializing out of thin air. Problems like the tense dynamic between her bratty older sister Taylor (Taegan Burns) and their new stepmom Jessica (DeWanda Wise), a well-meaning children’s artist who has relocated her stepdaughters into her old childhood home.

This was perhaps a smart decision given that the family, which includes Alice and Taylor’s musician father Max (Tom Payne), were feeling cramped in their downtown apartment. But then again, it is clear that something horrible went down in Jessica’s youth – why oh why has her father has spent most of his life in a mental-health institution?? – and now her stepdaughters will be forced to relive it, one jump scare at a time.

The main culprit? That would be Chauncey Bear, whom Alice once day starts lugging everywhere, engaging in “imaginary” conversations with her new best friend. Naturally, things go supernaturally sideways almost immediately, throwing Jessica and her stepdaughters into an odyssey that’s pitched as nightmarish but is mostly just tedious.

Wadlow gets a slightly surreal spring in his step once he shifts the film’s action to Chauncey’s otherworldly “realm,” a kind of checker-patterned hell that looks like the hotel Beetlejuice might run were he a Property-Brother poltergeist. But by that point, audiences will have already ghosted the proceedings. Whether it’s the watered-down scares or the terrible performances – no one likes making fun of children, but Braun needs to leave acting to the stage-parented professionals – Imaginary’s myriad faults are all too real.

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Director Jeff Wadlow does well on the prop front, securing a stuffed animal that is creepy in its simplicity.Parrish Lewis/Lionsgate/Lionsgate

The only brief amusement comes from dreaming of the enterprising podcaster who will surely one day talk their way through a surreal double bill of Wadlow’s film and this year’s other big imaginary-friend film, John Krasinski’s forthcoming IF (a decidedly more family-friendly affair).

Until that podcast arrives, though – or until M3GAN inevitably teams up with the prototypical serial-killer doll Chucky – it is best to put childish things away. Preferably under lock and key.

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