Studio: Broad Green Pictures
Director: John R. Leonetti
Writer: Barbara Marshall
Producer: Sherryl Clark
Stars: Joey King, Ki Hong Lee, Sydney Park, Shannon Purser, Sherilyn Fenn, Elisabeth Rohm, Ryan Phillippe, Mitchell Slaggert, Josephine Langford, Alice Lee, Kevin Hanchard
Deadly consequences haunt a teen girl who comes into possession of a cursed Chinese music box capable of granting wishes.
Sometimes horror movies are made for longtime diehards craving cleverly twisted terror. Sometimes horror movies are merely made for junior high slumber parties, a perfectly acceptable mainstream market whose different standards don’t demand the latest and greatest in eerie entertainment. “Wish Upon” clearly belongs to the latter category, where buttered popcorn fun in the here and now beats out desires for memorable nightmares to leave a lasting impact.
Typical teenager Clare never fully recovered from her mother’s sudden suicide 12 years ago. Unfortunately for Clare, mom couldn’t come up with a better time or place to kill herself than when her five-year-old daughter was destined to discover her corpse creepily swinging in silhouette from their creaking attic rafters.
Yes, “Wish Upon” is one of those movies where painting a cinematic image such as this is infinitely more important than realistically structuring the story. Roll eyes if you must. Roll with the tone instead and you’ll laugh out loud at the lunacy while still engaging with the energy specifically because the presentation is so unapologetically spirited.
Clare’s packrat father Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe) is the handsomest dumpster diver in Clevelanto. (An establishing shot definitively sets “Wish Upon” in Cleveland, although it was evidently filmed in Toronto.) His embarrassing hobby makes Clare an easy target for bullying bitch Darcie. However, Clare inadvertently gets a bit of revenge when dad gifts her with a Chinese music box found in the trash. Clare idly wishes for her nemesis to “go rot” and lo and behold, Darcie wakes up with decayed flesh falling away from her body.
Clare has unknowingly come into possession of an antique item straight out of Lewis Vendredi’s Druid Street store, complete with a curse bestowing its owner with seven wishes for the small price of someone’s life each time. Clare doesn’t connect the consequences at first. Aside from her dog, lost lives remain in the background long enough to go unnoticed sometimes for several days. It isn’t until the body count hits a high in proportion to newfound fortunes that Clare finally realizes what bell she has rung.
“Wish Upon” may be a textbook teen thriller. But that textbook is bound tight, with sharp corners, hefty content, and a crisp, glossy finish. Everywhere the film falters, an element comes to the rescue before risking a full fall into the quicksand of routine tropes and tripe.
Each stereotypical character materializes from a bare minimum amount of development. Straight out of some MTV series, Clare’s classmates distinguish themselves mainly through ethnicity or hair color, though newcomers and name veterans alike fill each role with as much personality as the straight script allows.
These actors force acceptance of the unbelievable because they’re so seriously invested in selling the story in spite of its silliness. Joey King blazes the way, lighting up Clare with a cute tomboyish charm keeping her sweetness, sass, occasional dopiness, and even contemptibility at well-managed levels.
“Wish Upon” concocts a few imaginative ends for its cast only for a PG-13 rating to conspicuously neuter carnage. Gorehounds might mind this even though it ultimately matters very little. The movie makes its money not in bloody payoffs, but by building suspenseful “Final Destination” squirminess through anticipation-thick death scenes.
No matter if you can see what’s coming, creative effort involved in staging makes these moments worth the wait. Sure, bits like a climactic chainsaw decapitation are hilariously telegraphed, although I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy the straight-faced absurdity of the spectacle.
“Wish Upon” uses “good enough” as an excuse quite often, yet gets away with it by pulling everything off with enjoyable flair. Even with its overdosing radio rock soundtrack and checklist hallmarks of teen horror, the movie manages to touch on actual themes of paying a price for things you only think you want and cautiously making meaningful decisions.
It isn’t highbrow. It won’t impress anyone anxious for inventive ambitions. Look at it under the light of the expectations outlined above however, and it definitely does its limited job well. Lump the likes of the first “Ouija” (review here), “The Gallows” (review here), “The Bye Bye Man” (review here), or “Rings” (review here) into the same young adult demographic, “Wish Upon” nails the formula far better than its peers, and in stylishly satisfying fashion for easy advancement to the head of the class in contemporary PG-13 chillers.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 75