What the hell was that?
First off, when you put “From the director of Annabelle,” I’m assuming that’s not meant to be some type of warning that this new film is going to be as dull and uninspired at that spinoff from The Conjuring (you know, one with a prequel coming in about a month…”from the director of Lights Out”). I’ll state right up front that I wasn’t scared, amused, or otherwise peripherally entertained in any way by Wish Upon, directed by John R. Leonetti and Viral writer Barbara Marshall. I’ll give the film credit for taking a really roundabout turn at the end in an effort to be original, but you could almost hear the eyes rolling in the theater as the teenage heroine makes one final wish in a last-ditch effort to undo the terrible, selfish, often cruel things she’s done up to that point in an effort to be “normal.”
I’ve long been a fan of young Joey King (White House Down, The Conjuring), who has been acting almost as long as she could talk, and she’s quite good in most of what she does. But she’s better than this by light years, playing Clare Shannon, whose mother (Elisabeth Rohm, whom we see in flashbacks) committed suicide when she was a young girl. Now a high schooler with a scrap-dealing father Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe, who seems almost embarrassed to have the camera pointed at him), living in a rundown house, Clare and her two best friends (June, played by Shannon Purser, Barb on “Stranger Things,” and Meredith, played by Sydney Park) are frequently the victims of the school’s popular mean girls, led by Darcie (Josephine Langford), leaving Clare desperate to escape the situation at any price.
One day, her father comes across a finely crafted Chinese music box; it just so happens that Clare is taking a Chinese class in school and can read enough of the ancient text engraved on the outside of the box (that she’s unable to open) to understand that she can make seven wishes upon it. I’m sure the rest of the text is just recipes and directions to the local mall. She’ll get around to having it translated eventually. In a fit of frustration and anger, Clare wishes that her arch-rival would “just rot,” and when Darcie wakes up the next morning, she’s contracted a skin infection that is making her rot from the outside. Chalking it up to coincident and distracted by the fact that her dog has just died, Clare doesn’t hesitate to carelessly ask for more wishes, including one that results in her and her father inheriting a lot of money, improving their lives immensely.
Also, people are dying around them, but Clare seems more concerned with the shopping montage she gets to have with her friends when her dad hands her a credit card for a little spree. Believe it or not, the early wishes aren’t the point of the film. Once Clare figures out that for each wish a blood price must be paid, Wish Upon becomes a morality play. With only three wishes left, will Clare throw away the box (which will result in all of the previous wishes being undone), or will the temptation be too great not to use the remaining wishes, damn the cost?
As you might expect, at various point in the film, there is detailed exposition about the messages on the outside of the box as well as the history of the box’s previous owners, many of whom committed suicide rather than make their final wish. Much of this information comes courtesy of Clare’s token Asian friend and his cousin, who just happens to be an expert on ancient Chinese languages. Also among the supporting players are Sherilyn Fenn (“Twin Peaks”) as Clare’s friendly neighbor whose only purpose is to be a sacrificial lamb. The film perhaps too greatly resembles the Final Destination movies, during which we’re simply waiting to see which character bites it through some vaguely creative way. There are instances where two characters are being reckless at the same time, and it becomes a coin flip to see which one is the dumbest and gets to die a largely bloodless death (oh, did I mention this was rated PG-13?).
The only slightly surprising moment comes at the very end, when it seems all is resolved, but even that is laughable, which I suppose technically counts as a version of entertainment. I’m fairly certain that director Leonetti believes he is telling the story of a broken young woman who feels empowered for the first time thanks to this supernatural force that enters her life. The fact that she’s killing those around her just to get a little piece of the world for herself phases her only slightly, but we’re still asked to sympathize with her to a degree. It’s a gross miscalculation in terms of storytelling, and further proof that this guy can’t make a decent horror movie. I’m baffled by this one even making it to theaters.