The Hamilton Spectator

Evil bear horror flick is actually unbearable

Release from Blumhouse fright factory has been made on the cheap and with ideas filched from better films


All through the derivative and toothless “Imaginary,” I kept hoping the potty-mouthed title teddy bear from “Ted” would show up.

Voiced by Seth MacFarlane, of course, and maybe accompanie­d by his BFF Mark Wahlberg to share snacks and their communal bong. Anything, really, to liven up this sad excuse for a horror movie.

Instead, we get the pathetic Chauncey Bear, a tedious teddy voiced by Alice (Pyper Braun), the impression­able kid Chauncey has in his “evil” thrall. This bear is so dull, the killer dolls Chucky, Annabelle and M3GAN from superior fright flicks would kick sand (or worse) in his face. As would Ted.

That’s too bad, because the clever marketing for “Imaginary” suggested we were in for something good, if not all that original, from journeyman writer/director Jeff Wadlow (“Kick-Ass 2”) and fright factory Blumhouse Production­s.

A teaser trailer last fall, which ran in theatres before Blumhouse’s “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” used sound more than images to stimulate interest. “Close your eyes and use your imaginatio­n,” the teaser began, yet “Imaginary” abandons that cerebral approach. It goes instead for jump scares, the lowest form of horror, and for a barrage of random phantasms that’s like staring at a haunted house pinball machine.

Call it the exploding crypt phenomenon. It’s a hallmark of the “Insidious” franchise, another Blumhouse property and one that “Imaginary” shamelessl­y steals from, working with a production budget that seems low even by Blumhouse’s thrifty standards.

Most of the action in “Imaginary” takes place in a modest suburban dwelling, the childhood home of overworked and anxious Jessica, played by DeWanda Wise of Netflix’s “She’s Gotta Have It.”

Newly married to rocker dude Max (Tom Payne, “The Walking Dead”), she’s trying hard to be a good stepmom to the precocious Alice and to the girl’s older sister, perpetuall­y peeved teen Taylor (Taegen Burns).

Jessica writes and illustrate­s insect-themed children’s books; “Molly Millipede” is her crawly classic. She has an active imaginatio­n, which figures into the film’s scattersho­t plot.

This may account in part for Jessica’s violent night terrors, glimpsed in the prologue. She also has painful childhood memories that continue to stalk her, as does the camera.

Jessica must also contend with stressful situations involving Samantha (Alix Angelis), the biological mother of Alice and Taylor, who suffers from mental illness and addiction, and who was committed to a facility for care after harming Alice. All the more reason for Max and Jessica to want to leave their current abode and move into Jessica’s “happy place” from her earlier life. Her childhood home seems very much as she left it decades ago, so much so that Alice discovers Jessica’s old teddy bear, Chauncey, left behind when the family departed.

A scruffy little bruin with a red vest and gold ribbon, he was waiting in the basement all that time, supposedly seething with resentment over being abandoned. His blank eyes make it hard to tell. Alice soon bonds with him and takes him everywhere. She talks to him and also speaks for him. Everybody calls Chauncey Alice’s imaginary friend. Cue spooky music.

It’s a promising setup for scares, one we’ve been primed for by the trailer and tag line: “He’s not imaginary and he’s not your friend.”

Alas, the haunted teddy is neither threatenin­g nor interestin­g. The budget for “Imaginary” apparently wasn’t enough to hire a proper voice actor for Chauncey, who is so innocuous he makes Yogi Bear seem like Ghostface from “Scream” in comparison. Chauncey at least doesn’t have to worry about being upstaged by the human actors, who aren’t much livelier.

Wadlow marks time with distractio­ns that include a dubious scavenger hunt and visits from a nosy neighbour, Gloria, played by horror vet Betty Buckley of “Carrie.” Gloria, a fellow author who knew Jessica’s family long ago and who wants to bond with her now, offers her theories about childhood occult possession, or whatever it is that’s happening to Alice.

It all leads to a place called “the Never-Ever,” a skeletal realm that’s a lo-fi imitation of the spooky grand central station known as “the Further” in the “Insidious” series.

With its cheap trap doors, gaudy flashing lights and goofy man in a bear suit — yes, there actually is one — the Never-Ever is like one of those charity haunted houses you find at fall fairs, which can’t be too scary so as not to frighten small children.

If that’s the intention with “Imaginary,” well, mission accomplish­ed. But if you’re a true horror fan, this film is not your friend.

 ?? PARRISHLEW­IS LIONSGATE ?? The pathetic Chauncey Bear is a tedious teddy voiced by Alice (Pyper Braun), the impression­able kid Chauncey has in his “evil” thrall, in “Imaginary,” writes Peter Howell.
PARRISHLEW­IS LIONSGATE The pathetic Chauncey Bear is a tedious teddy voiced by Alice (Pyper Braun), the impression­able kid Chauncey has in his “evil” thrall, in “Imaginary,” writes Peter Howell.

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