Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violent and Disturbing Images, Thematic Elements and Language
Directed by: John R. Leonetti
Written by: Barbara Marshall
Starring: Joey King, Ki Hong Lee, Sydney Park, Ryan Phillippe, Elisabeth Rohm, Mitchell Slaggert, Shannon Purser & Kevin Hanchard
There’s something to be said for lowered expectations. For example, I’d heard nothing but horribly negative things about WISH UPON. When a friend asked me to go see this movie with him, it seemed like I was walking into a watered-down, teeny-bopper excuse for a horror flick that would give THE BYE BYE MAN competition as a contender for the position of 2017’s worst horror film. Surprisingly, this was not the case. WISH UPON is what would happen if you threw WISHMASTER, FINAL DESTINATION, and a GOOSEBUMPS episode into a blender. It’s undeniably cheesy and dumb, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t mildly entertained by this movie.
Clare Shannon (Joey King) is a high school outcast and constantly carries the mental scars of her mother’s suicide. One day, Clare’s dumpster-diving daddy (Ryan Phillippe) finds a weird Chinese music box and gives it to her as a gift. Clare soon discovers that this mysterious item is actually a wishing box and will grant her seven wishes. There’s always a downside in dealing with magical matters like wishes, meaning that the box will take a life (a blood sacrifice) for every wish granted…unbeknownst to Clare. Soon Clare’s life starts changing, her wishes take darkly ironic turns, and bodies pile up in chain-of-event death sequences (reminiscent of FINAL DESTINATION and THE OMEN).
WISH UPON’s plot has been executed many times before. Horror stories about grim wishes date back to early fairy tales, W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” children’s entertainment (like a GOOSEBUMPS book and its subsequent TV episode adaptation), and even the slasher genre (e.g. the WISHMASTER franchise). My point is that before WISH UPON even starts, you’ll likely be able to correctly guess how this entire film plays out. However, this morbid morality tale is decently entertaining in a dumb way and might serve as a nice gateway horror flick for teenagers (who will likely stick it in during a sleepover or a party or whatever young hooligans do these days for amusement). For all of its predictability, WISH UPON doesn’t over stay its welcome at a fast-paced 90-minute running time.
There are only two big notable performances to speak of. Joey King (who’s mostly been regulated to supporting parts in blockbusters and indie flicks) does a pretty good job in the role of Clare. King gives this angsty teenage girl a believable existence and has the viewer borderline sympathizing with her frame of mind, while also playing a very flawed character who might learn a valuable lesson from this whole supernatural experience…if it doesn’t ruin her life first. Surprisingly, Ryan Phillippe puts in the only other noteworthy performance as Clare’s dad. Phillippe also has a genuinely good scene in which he discusses his wife’s haunting suicide with his daughter. As far as the supporting characters go, they are one-dimensional teenage stereotypes and walking plot devices. In other words, you probably won’t miss anybody who dies in a horrible way.
Speaking of which, WISH UPON’s death scenes are a bit scattershot. Some of the kills are surprisingly graphic for a PG-13, while others are downright comical. The former mainly belongs to two unexpectedly gory bits (shown in snippets) and a sequence that lets the audience guess who’s going to die next (in a way that echoes the better suspenseful moments of the FINAL DESTINATION series). The latter comes in the rest of the body count, some of which are mind-bogglingly ridiculous. The way that these rooms, certain furniture, and an ill-placed garbage disposal switch are set up seem to be constructed specifically so that people die in stupid ways. The two silliest deaths have already been revealed in the film’s trailer (the garbage disposal scene is stupid and hilarious). It’s also worth noting that I really liked this film’s conclusion, but I won’t get into that because of obvious spoilers.
WISH UPON is like a darker, more violent episode of GOOSEBUMPS or ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?. I don’t necessarily mean that as a completely negative thing either, because there’s fun to be had in that stuff. This film is far more unintentionally campy than it is creepy, but I still found enjoyment in its sillier moments and a few legitimately well-executed scenes. I don’t think this film deserves the amount of hatred it has received from critics and audiences thus far, because I can think of loads of other recent theatrical horror releases (both with PG-13 and R ratings that are far worse than this film). WISH UPON joins the ranks of horror flicks that loads of people hate, but I somehow enjoy (alongside THEY and APOLLO 18). Take that as you will.