Director: John R. Leonetti
Cast: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Sydney Park, Shannon Purser, Ki Hong Lee, Mitchell Slaggert, Elisabeth Rohm, Josephine Langford, Alexander Nunez, Daniela Barbosa, Kevin Hanchard, Sherilyn Fenn
MPAA Rating: (for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language)
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 7/14/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 13, 2017
They think small in Wish Upon, a horror movie with a plot that sounds a bit like W.W. Jacobs' short story "The Monkey's Paw," except without the irony, which is the horrifying part of that story. The heroine wishes her bully "would rot," and the bully literally does from a flesh-eating bacteria. She wishes to be the most popular girl in school, and she is, except that her friends in school, who already thought she was pretty cool, stop liking her, despite the wish. We later learn that a man who once possessed the ancient Chinese wish box used up his seven wishes to have a successful car dealership in New Jersey. Different folks have different strokes and all of that, but is a car dealership in Jersey really the best thing he could think up? He could have at least considered the tri-state area.
The alleged irony of the situation is that, for each wish granted, someone has to die. The person who dies is usually close the wisher, although that's not necessarily a rule. One person who dies as a result of a wish is someone the protagonist just met about an hour earlier. There's nothing particularly ironic about the deaths, either, unless one considers it to be ironic that a woman gets her hair caught in a kitchen sink garbage disposal, after having her hand in there for an inordinate amount of time. Why she puts her entire head in the kitchen sink for that to be a possibility is up for you to determine.
The crux of the plot is for Clare (Joey King), an unpopular girl in high school, to figure out the rules of the wish box, which are conveniently inscribed on the box, albeit, inconveniently, in a form of ancient Chinese. Conveniently, she's taking Chinese in school, so she can figure out the gist of the process: Put your hands on the box, and make a wish.
This goes well enough, although she doesn't think too much of the fact that, shortly after she wishes her bully "would rot," the bully ends up with a rare disease that makes parts of her body look like a rotting corpse. The "blood price," a phrase that we later learn is also inscribed on the box, for that one is her beloved dog, which she finds dead under the porch under circumstances that should raise some suspicion.
She's not suspicious, despite inheriting a mansion from an uncle, who also dies within a suspicious timeframe of her making another wish. That wish is for a popular jock (played by Mitchell Slaggert) to "fall madly in love" with her. There's some actual irony in the way this wish plays out—and a lesson about using modifiers when dealing with an ancient Chinese demon that seems to take things literally. The screenplay by Barbara Marshall doesn't know what do it with it, because such a development doesn't fit into the movie's pattern of wish fulfillment followed by a dragged-out scene of a minor character's semi-elaborate death.
Those deaths are mostly the result of people being clumsy (Someone slips in a tub, and another person trips on a carpet) or stupid (the aforementioned head-in-a-sink scene). There's neither tension, despite director John R. Leonetti intercutting between two possible deaths in one sequence (The stupidity here is a guy reaching under a raised car for a bolt that would be easier to retrieve on the other side of the car), nor humor, except laughing at how much setup goes into so little payoff.
Because the rules of the box—wish followed by death—are so obvious, we're mainly left wondering if Clare is ignorant—and, hence, dumb—or overtly malicious in her continued wishing. There's evidence for either option, making for some pretty hefty inconsistency on part of developing the character, although neither one makes for an appealing protagonist. It's perhaps a commentary on the lengths to which a teenager will go to feel some sense of normalcy in high school, but the screenplay's depiction of those concerns feels far too hokey for it to have any impact (Her dad, played by Ryan Phillippe, embarrasses her in his self-employed garbage-hoarding, and the there's not a single interaction among the teenage characters that comes across as legitimate).
Eventually, Marshall has Clare raise her standards in wishing, bringing about a third act that gets into some metaphysical stuff about changing the past. By that point, though, it only serves as a rushed, disappointing peek into what Wish Upon could have done with this premise.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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