Mucking with Movies: 'Imaginary' | – The Aspen Times

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Few moments bring a smile to my face faster than the waft of reefer hitting my nose in a movie theater parking lot.
Back in my getting-baked days, before I had to acknowledge that maybe I had some indulgence issues and my dad told me that I get mean when I’m stoned, the pre-movie joint was one of my favorite smokes. Sitting in the car, window rolled down, looking at the marquee of the theater telling me the art and times that awaited me. If I still did such things, “Imaginary” would be the perfect flick to go in for, a PG-13 evil teddy bear horror story.
I have a soft spot for the genre; I believe it to be the last strain of film that can present itself as post-modern in a post-ironic way. It has self-awareness without winking and undercutting themselves, existing to serve its audience and its creator equally. I hate irony; it is the enemy of genuine. If you’re going to make a movie about a sentient, stuffed animal that stalks a home over decades, you might as well lean into it. For the most part, “Imaginary” does.
Demanding your attention from the very first scene, there’s not anything subtle going on for better or for worse. The loudness of the sound mix and the one-dimensional emotions emoted by the actors reach a direct line from the screen to your seat.
Director Jeff Wadlow does a handful of things well here. By far his most impressive piece of directing comes from his framing. Good horror, like good comedy, is about skewering expectations. Raising tension, then relieving it. Over and over, until your tapestry is textured and can lead to a loaded payoff at the climax. Wadlow achieves this by tracking his subjects with a tight lens that has them either standing in the corner of the shot or using them to push the camera’s frame, so that there is always the gripping possibility of something lurking just out of sight. That at any moment a character can turn a corner and find themselves face to face with the elusive monster.
He also utilizes one of my favorite shots in cinema: the low angle from underneath the stairs shooting upwards at a character discovering the basement for the first time. The scene had all the little details that should go into it: darkness illuminated by a bare lightbulb that the character flicks on, wooden stairs creaking, and some well-made shadows shifting creepily. For the best example of this shot, check out “Barbarian” – it’s the film’s poster.
Beyond that though, everything was breathtakingly average. The acting is awkwardly stilted with particularly atrocious performances from Tom Payne as the father and Betty Buckley as Gloria. The cool neighborhood boy called Gloria “Old Bag Patterson,” though, and I would prefer to stick with that. They had the type of acting where somebody looks up at the screen and says “Hey, I can do that.” Where acting looks easy in the worst possible way.
Notable though is Dane DiLiegro as Chauncey the Bear’s evil voice; it was suitably simultaneously scary and childish, letting us buy into the story further.
We can never go all in, though; the film never earns that level of commitment. I spent most of the time cracking jokes to myself in the empty theater I sat in. By the time the third act rolls around, it starts to blow.
Dragging along in those last twenty minutes, we get a false ending and a dive into the imaginary land where evil lives. This world is well-designed but certainly nothing we haven’t seen dozens and dozens of times before. Stairs that lead to nowhere, creatures with too many legs and rows of teeth, and evil kids with decayed faces. I avoid spoilers in my reviews because I think any critic who can’t write their column without giving it away is a hack, but I feel content in the fact that this is such trite and trodden-on territory that none of this is much of a surprise. Even when we get to the real ending, we have no triumphant boss battle that gives us catharsis, just more of the same. The film had no ideas left, and nowhere to go with its premise.
It’s a decent movie and a fun one to go to after getting ripped with the homies.
Critic score: 5.1/10
Jack Simon is a mogul coach and writer/director who enjoys eating food he can’t afford, traveling to places out of his budget, and creating art about skiing, eating, and traveling while broke. Check out his website to see his Jack’s Jitney travelogue series. You can email him at for inquiries of any type.

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