Imaginary – An unrelenting tale of terror and the power of our imaginations

Imaginary is Wadlow’s third collaboration with Blumhouse, following the re-imagining of the classic TV show Fantasy Island which Jeff directed, wrote, and produced for Blumhouse, and directing and co-writing the box office hit Truth or Dare. Wadlow co-wrote the screenplay with Greg Erb and Jason Oremland, long-time writing partners, teaming up on both live action and animated projects.

Wadlow credits blockbuster horror producer Jason Blum with inspiring him to explore the fantastical and frightening world of Imaginary. The story’s mind-bending premise provided Wadlow with the opportunity to upend some favorite horror tropes — a troubled family moving into a new/old house; dark crawl spaces and basements rife with left-behind and long-forgotten objects that are possessed by ominous elements — into an evocative, phantasmal, and terrifying exploration of the dark energies of suppressed trauma, perception, and reality.

Writer/director JEFF WADLOW

Imaginary is about a newly married woman with two stepdaughters, who comes to realize her make-believe friend from her childhood, to whom she was particularly close, is more than a little angry that she moved away and left him behind,” Wadlow explains. “So, now that imaginary companion — Chauncey — wants a new friend and he’s going to do whatever it takes to keep her.”

Imaginary is an original horror film that taps into the innocence of imaginary friends, and asks, are they really figments of childhood imagination, or is something terrifying lying just beneath? When Jessica (DeWanda Wise) moves back into her childhood home with her family, her youngest stepdaughter Alice (Pyper Braun) develops an eerie attachment to a stuffed bear named Chauncey, which she finds in the basement. Alice begins enjoying games with Chauncey that quickly transition from innocent playfulness to something dark and sinister. As Alice’s behavior becomes increasingly concerning, Jessica intervenes, soon realizing that Chauncey is much more than a stuffed toy bear … and connects to her own long-forgotten past.

“It contributes to the ever-evolving roster of iconic characters within our library,” says Blum. “While each Blumhouse film has its unique elements, Imaginary stands out by introducing Chauncey as a memorable and distinctive character whose limits are only defined by those of your imagination.”

That element, Blum continues, “adds layers of complexity to the story, making the characters more relatable and the tension more palpable. It also shakes up the typical horror movie formula and gets the audience thinking, which keeps everything full of surprises. Plus, it taps into deep emotions, making the horror experience more engaging and more thought-provoking.”

“Taking a common childhood experience and cranking up the fear factor is all about tapping into something relatable and then twisting it in a way that unsettles viewers,” he adds. “We start with the familiarity of that innocent memory and gradually introduce elements that make it eerie or disturbing. The goal is to create a sense of unease and make the audience question something they once considered safe, turning it into a source of fear and suspense.”

As Blum indicates, within an unrelenting tale of terror, Imaginary is about the power of our imaginations, and how childhood memories can shape our adult lives. Youthful innocence is often heralded as idyllic and rich with imagination and fun, but it can also be marked by “uncertainty and vulnerability that lurk in dark corners.”

Imaginary playmates are, on the surface, innocent companions to children. The make-believe friends keep loneliness at bay while fueling their creativity. Moreover, the idea of children having unique access to the spirit world through these imaginary companions cuts across several cultures.

But what if, Imaginary posits, those made-up pals are real – and what if they’re not your friends? The film blurs the line between a child’s imagination and the dark world of the supernatural, as its antagonist, a teddy bear named Chauncey, becomes a frightening and otherworldly force.

“Imaginary friends can be wonderful companions, terrifying monsters, or vengeful spirits who will not let go,” Wadlow claims. “In our movie, you’ll never know which version you are getting..”

Imaginary is all about expecting the unexpected coupled with some truly shocking twists It all begins as a return to a “happy place,” a seemingly idyllic suburban home, at which some decidedly non-idyllic events soon unfold: a child’s playful, crayon-ed list of scavenger hunt items becomes something sinister, encompassing dead flies, worms, cockroaches — and a close encounter with a rusty nail — all under the direction and mandate of a stuffed bear with dead eyes and a seemingly insatiable appetite.

It’s where an Entity that’s closely — very closely — aligned with Chauncey lurks in the shadows, and where a portal leads to the Never-Ever, an otherworldly universe and kingdom of imagination. Chauncey promises his new friend, young Alice, that the Never-Ever’s infinite maze of hallways and doors will make her happy and safe, and not feel bad anymore. As Jessica and her new family are about to learn, they are sharing their home with a being that hungers after a child’s imagination.

“It’s no surprise that it’s women who drive the action in Imaginary because, says Wadlow, “I was raised by strong women. My mother, Emily Couric, was a Virginia State Senator and the head of the Democratic party. My aunt, former ‘Today’ show co-host and CBS news anchor Katie Couric, is an accomplished journalist. I love writing characters that evoke the women who helped shape me.”

Wadlow’s watchword for filming Imaginary was “practical,” encompassing real locations, creatures, sets, effects, and props.

Blum says the emphasis on practical effects was key to the storytelling — and shocks. “The entertainment value of horror is centered around fear, and the more a filmmaker can create a realistic fear, the more the audience will be immersed in the story and in the horror,” he explains. “There are instances where CGI can hit the mark, but audiences gravitate towards practical over computer-generated effects for a more authentic experience. We’ve found that having the actors and puppeteers work together to bring the
film’s creatures to life elicits the most genuine response.”

Blum adds that the film’s aesthetics are carefully crafted to immerse the audience in a world that blurs the lines between reality and nightmare, specifying, “The checkered walls of the Never-Ever symbolize the distorted and surreal nature of the imaginary world and how the familiar can become menacing. The stark contrast between the bright childlike patterns and the increasingly sinister events that unfold within these walls creates a sense of dissonance that heightens tension and unease. The crawl space in the basement is a classic horror trope representing the unknown. Its dimly lit, cramped, and labyrinthian design helps tap into common fears of confinement.”

The Imaginary filmmakers hope to engage movie audiences with action, suspense, and lots of scares. “I love that horror has this unique ability to elicit intense emotional reactions from audiences, and experiencing that in theaters amplifies those reactions,” notes Blum.

Moreover, Blum posits that the film will intrigue those new to the genre. “Imaginary provides an innovative, relatable, and psychologically engaging approach to horror that can serve as an inviting entry point for those looking to explore the genre. The film also places a strong emphasis on character development and relationships, allowing audiences to fully invest in the characters’ journeys and emotions, making this an exciting experience for newcomers.”

Ultimately, echoes Wadlow, “The scares in this film will ring true with a lot of people. We want audiences to think about their own families, childhoods, and imaginations. In Imaginary we suggest that the imaginary friend you had as a child wasn’t as imaginary as you remember. That idea becomes a way to explore bigger themes and emotions.”

DGA Award nominee Jeff Wadlow’s forthcoming theatrical film, Imaginary, marks his third collaboration with Jason Blum under a first look deal that launched Jeff’s own production company, Tower of Babble Entertainment. Last year, he was the director and executive producer of The Curse of Bridge Hollow, starring Marlon Wayans, which debuted at number one on Netflix. This followed the two feature films he had in theaters at the same time: Bloodshot, the big screen adaptation of the critically acclaimed comic book that Jeff developed and wrote for Sony/Columbia Pictures staring Vin Diesel; and Fantasy Island, the
re-imagining of the classic TV show that Jeff directed, wrote, and produced for Blumhouse.

His first collaboration with Blum, the original theatrical feature, Truth or Dare (Universal Studios), grossed approximately 100 million in theaters from a budget of just 3.5. Before that, Jeff wrote and directed True Memoirs of an International Assassin, staring Kevin James and Andy Garcia, a movie that was at the forefront of Netflix’s expansion into original features, while his preceding writing/directing effort, Kick-Ass 2, was named one of the ten best films of the year by Quentin Tarantino, who stated it demonstrated a “real auteur approach.”

A graduate of Dartmouth College, Jeff received his Masters degree from the prestigious Peter Stark Producing Program at USC where he conceived and directed his thesis film, tHE tOWeR oF BabBLe, winning more than a dozen awards before taking the top prize in the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival. Jeff used the million-dollar grant to make his first feature, Cry Wolf, which was released by Universal Studios. His next feature, the action/drama Never Back Down, beat out big-budget competition to win “Best Fight” at the MTV Movie Awards, kicking-off an MMA franchise with three sequels and counting. Jeff also developed and executive produced the worldwide hit, Non-Stop, as well as selling multiple pitches to CBS, NBC, and ABC for original TV shows, with two of them going to pilot. Jeff collaborated with Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) and Kerry Ehrin (“The Morning Show”) to help launch the Emmy-nominated series, Bates Motel, and then re-teamed with Cuse as a writer and Co-EP on the final season of The Strain, co-created by Guillermo Del Toro. In addition to directing/executive producing the star-studded second season of the action-comedy, Ryan Hansen Solves Crime on Television. ,For his work as the
director/executive producer of the re-boot of the classic 90’s TV show, Are You Afraid of the
Dark? for Paramount/Nickelodeon, Jeff received a DGA Award nomination. For the last two decades, Jeff has returned to his hometown every fall to lead The Adrenaline Film Project, a program he founded to help filmmakers of all ages, write, shoot, and screen a short film in just 72 hours. Through the Adrenaline Film Project, Jeff has helped produce more than two hundred short films, personally mentoring over six hundred aspiring filmmakers.

Greg Erb and Jason Oremland have been long-time writing partners, teaming up on both live action and animated projects. They co-wrote Disney’s Oscar-nominated The Princess and the Frog and were writers for Nickelodeon’s live-action “Monster High” movie-musical. They also wrote and produced the Emmy
-nominated “Reindeer in Here” animated holiday special that aired on CBS in 2022. In recent years, they have worked on screenplays and TV shows for many of the major studios and animation houses – including Amblin, Disney, New Line, Skydance, Sony, Fox Animation and Dreamworks. Aside from the work they’ve done in features and television, they also co-wrote “The Return of King Doug” – a graphic novel named as one of the top young adult titles for teenage audiences by the Young Adult Library Services Association. Greg and Jason are now working on horror projects for Paramount and Sony Pictures – as well as writing an upcoming horror/comedy comic book for Vault Comics.