Dummy Bear — Imaginary

William J Hammon
6 min readMar 13, 2024

The Oscar Blitz is an annual tradition I look forward to with much anticipation and excitement. However, when the ceremony is over, there’s only one thing I want to do — turn my brain OFF. Usually I do that through a well-earned good night’s sleep. But since I had work the next day, and because I also had to check in for potential jury duty, the idea of rest wasn’t exactly on my radar Sunday night. As such, I opted for the next best thing, to put prestige behind me and watch something completely and utterly stupid.

The latest Blumhouse insult to the horror genre, Imaginary, fit the bill nicely. I’m all for campy, B-movie style terror flicks, but this was just plain dumb. Unlike the pure goofy fun of M3GAN, this just felt lazy, phoned-in, and uninspired, with most of the laughs coming from a litany of rip-offs (including Get Out, Beetlejuice, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, and Coraline just to name a few) and the strange sensation that the creators actually thought this was a good idea. We might have had Cocaine Bear last year, but this film feels like people on cocaine trying to make a teddy bear scary. With the former you have genuine comedy at the insane absurdity of the premise and the crew fully leaning into it. Here the chuckles mostly come ironically, though they do come in great numbers, to the point where this is almost salvageable.

The story, such as it is, begins with a jump scare in the very first shot, as a woman named Jessica (DeWanda Wise, apparently serving penance for Jurassic World Dominion) has a nightmare about being chased around the hallways of an old house by a monster who comes out of a small magical door. When she wakes, we learn that she’s a children’s book author, and has written a series about a spider who chases a millipede, because what kid wouldn’t love that? She’s married to musician Max (Tom Payne) and serves as step-mother to Max’s two daughters — the innocent and friendly Alice (Pyper Braun) and the absolute bitch on wheels that is the teenage Taylor (Taegen Burns), who should have been a cannon fodder victim purely for taking Bing Bong’s name in vain. This new family unit is set to move in to Jessica’s childhood home, now that her elderly and mentally-deficient father Ben (Samuel Salary) has been committed to an assisted living facility.

Jessica makes an effort to connect with her step-daughters, but only has mild success. Alice is amenable, while Taylor is much more concerned about hooking up with the cute neighbor boy Liam (Matthew Sato). During a game of “hide and seek” with Alice, Jessica gets a phone call and ducks outside. Alice, who is doing the seeking, naturally decides to go looking for her in the creepy, unlit basement, where she finds a creepy crawl space door cut into the brick. Inside is a teddy bear, somehow preserved for years to not have a speck of dust on it. Alice names the bear Chauncey, and decides to play with it rather than Jessica from here on out, growing more distant as the story wears on.

Danger lurks, however, as Chauncey’s presence conjures up repressed memories from Jessica’s own childhood, which are further jogged by the ominous old neighbor Gloria (Betty Buckley, horror veteran from the fantastic Carrie and Split, and also for reasons known but to God, The Happening), who coincidentally used to be Jessica’s babysitter. She too is an author, not of children’s books, mind you, but batshit, self-published conspiracy theories about spirits that take the form of imaginary friends. You know, normal stuff. Anyway, as Alice becomes more attached to Chauncey, she speaks in “his” voice, and we learn that the bear has become possessive of her, attacking Liam in hilarious fashion for being mean to her, and even creating a scavenger hunt list that involves Alice doing things that scare and hurt her so that she can “go on a trip” to see where Chauncey lives.

Throughout this 105-minute distraction, you can see the hints of something truly intriguing. The idea of an evil teddy bear is idiotic, but so was Chucky. It can still work if you pull it off right. The Child’s Play series embraced its insane premise and went for gut-busting (literally and figuratively) elaborate kills. This, however, is just a neutered PG-13 affair with basically no gore and only two scenes that could result in death. Everything else is a tired trope or a laughably bad effect. For example, there’s some giddy fun to be had at the fact that Chauncey has a music box circus theme to announce his menace. It’s monumentally silly, but there’s a degree of suspense in how a stuffed bear with a pull string can present a threat. We get a fairly decent buildup as he toys with Liam, only for it to end in a jump scare that only got people gasping because of how stupid it looked. When the crescendo of your first major scare set piece ends with members of the audience shouting, “This is a joke, right?” you’re doing it wrong.

But even then, the project could still have been saved. There are avenues worth exploring when it comes to repressed trauma, the co-dependency of an imaginary friend, or the efforts of Jessica to be a good mom in an uncomfortable situation, but every time the film approaches something meaningful, the moment is wasted on something incredibly moronic, like a lame twist on the bear’s existence, a fake-out during the climax, or an eye prosthetic design so bad that Neil Gaiman should sue. By the time we get to the final sequence that seems tailor-made to denigrate Labyrinth, we’re no longer wondering what this is building to, but just how insulting the resolution will be.

And yet, this is extremely funny. Wise gives a performance that’s far too earnest for the material, ironically becoming the most bonkers character in the movie. Betty Buckley, conversely, plays her crazy lady cliché for all it’s worth, because she’s been around this block plenty of times before. There is value in this beyond the pure camp. I just wish the filmmakers could have picked a lane and decided if it wanted to be legitimately scary or a “so-bad-it’s-good” schlock festival.

As it stands, the plot is just too lazy and braindead to matter. There is enjoyment to be had in a sort of Mystery Science Theater context, but that’s about it. Still, that’s all I was looking for, so I was ready to be more forgiving. But then I had to apply the “Jump Fail” protocols. If this movie had just played itself honestly without using the cheapest element in horror as a crutch — again, a confusing aspect that plays like they truly thought this would be frightening for audiences — it would have probably gotten a B-. However, a total of nine unjustified jump scares tanks any chance it had of a recommendation outside of your next “Bad Movie Night.”

Grade: D+

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What’s the silliest object you can think of to drive a horror movie? If this had come out 20 years ago, would the toy have been named Chauncey Bear-lups? Let me know! And remember, you can follow me on Twitter (fuck “X”) and YouTube for even more content!

Originally published at http://actuallypaid.com on March 13, 2024.



William J Hammon

All content is from the blog, “I Actually Paid to See This,” available at actuallypaid.com