Film Review of the Week


Imaginary (15)

Review: Moving back to your childhood home could be considered a blessing, or a curse, for some. In the case of Jessica (DeWanda Wise), an author and illustrator of children’s books, what seems like a fresh start becomes truly the stuff of nightmares. All is well until her youngest stepdaughter Alice (Pyper Braun) finds a stuffed bear called Chauncey in the basement of the house, which at first all seems innocent enough. But within days Alice’s demeanour changes and she’s relaying conversations she’s having with her “imaginary friend”, aka Chauncey.

From there, terror-filled nightmares for Jessica continue while the others in the house – husband Max (Tom Payne) and another stepdaughter Taylor (Taegen Burns) – also start experiencing strange things. As an offering from American film and TV production company Blumhouse, whose suite of horror titles includes Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge, M3GAN and Five Nights At Freddy’s, there’s a high expectation set before you’ve even started watching the film.

Imaginary pairs blockbuster horror producer Jason Blum, who founded Blumhouse, with director and producer Jeff Wadlow. It is Wadlow’s third collaboration with Blumhouse following projects like 2018’s horror film Truth Or Dare. There are some great moments of scare and high-octane, anxiety-inducing scenes as Chauncey becomes a terrifying and otherworldly force. The real powerhouse to be reckoned with is Wise, who is an inspired casting choice to lead the film.

The American actress, 29, who was equally impressive leading Spike Lee’s 2017 Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, manages to keep the audience guessing while her character deals with layers of complexity and tension in a sometimes-lagging script. The glimpses back to Jessica’s childhood, especially her relationship with her father, are useful pieces of a fragmented puzzle and you almost wish they had been expanded on a bit more.

The tension present in Jessica’s role as a new stepmother is thoughtfully articulated, and the addition of the children’s biological mother, who struggles with mental illness, is well done. American actress Betty Buckley, 76, who we meet as mysterious neighbour Gloria, is a character that you want to learn more about, so more screen time with her would have been welcome . The concept of turning a child’s toy into something sinister is not new. Horror films like 1988’s Child’s Play set the gold standard for toys turning into terrorisers, so it feels like Chauncey as a concept has a lot to live up to.

The film does make you think about imaginary friends and the importance they often play in early childhood development, and it really calls into question the limits of human imagination. As a die-hard Blumhouse fan, it didn’t quite meet the very lofty expectations I’d set for it. It is a watchable, if slightly forgettable, film that has some decent tension.

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Origin (12A)

Review: In writer-director Ava DuVernay’s beguiling biographical drama, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) delivers an empowering talk about her nonfiction book, Caste: The Origins Of Our Discontents. “You don’t escape trauma by ignoring it,” she professes. “You escape trauma by confronting it.” Her words resonate deeply, delivered a matter of months after the murder of George Floyd and before Donald Trump alleges the 2020 US presidential election was stolen from him. We are the uncontested winners with DuVernay’s picture.

An elegant, non-linear script deftly traces connective tissue between historical touchstones in Wilkerson’s bestseller, which explores how entire groups have been dehumanised throughout history. DuVernay glides between these deeply-moving stories of courage and defiance, which include early 20th-century social reformer Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar (Gaurav J Pathania), who openly challenges the idea that Dalits are the untouchable outcasts of Indian society; African-American anthropologists (Isha Blaaker, Jasmine Cephas Jones), who infiltrate the Mississippi Delta to study the subservience of black people to the whites; and a Nazi Party member (Finn Wittrock) and his Jewish lover (Victoria Pedretti) caught up in the gathering storm of 1937 Germany.

Tragedies of the past ripple through time to the fatal 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin (Myles Frost) in Sanford, Florida, by a self-appointed neighbourhood watch captain. Ellis-Taylor delivers an emotionally raw performance as Wilkerson, who begins the film tending to her elderly mother, Ruby (Emily Yancy), in between speaking engagements. Isabel and financial analyst husband Brett Hamilton (Jon Bernthal) wrestle with their guilt as they ruefully oversee Ruby’s move into an assisted-living facility.

Soon after, newspaper editor Amari Selvan (Blair Underwood) encourages Isabel to listen to an emergency services call made by the man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin. “You can’t be walking around on a white street at night and not expect trouble,” Ruby comments on the case. The idea for a new book germinates but two devastating personal losses within the space of a year almost break Isabel’s spirit. Steadfast cousin Marion (Niecy Nash) provides emotional ballast so Isabel can eventually return to work and undertake globe-trotting research for her book

Filmed on location in the American South, Berlin and Delhi, Origin is another masterful portrait of the multi-faceted human condition from DuVernay. The writer-director’s personal engagement with Wilkerson is evident, confidently shepherding us through dense subject matter that could, in lesser hands, feel inaccessible or dry. “There’s more to life than what we can see,” Isabel sermonises as a soulmate lingers in death’s embrace. Through DuVernay’s lens, we see filmmaking of the highest calibre that expands minds, profoundly moves and sparks animated discussion.

Find Origin in the cinemas