2017 | rated PG-13 | starring Joey King, Ryan Phillippe | directed by John Leonetti | 1hr 30mins |
Studio Pitch: Look at this crazy-looking music box, let’s make a horror movie about it!
The Chinese music box at the center of Wish Upon is ornate and unique and kind of creepy. In the middle of the night it plays a tune and it’s lid opens slowly to alert people that it is taking a blood sacrifice. Somehow. I can see how a studio executive’s daughter would have seen it at a flea market, brought it home, someone decided to center a horror movie around it and – boom – the script was banged out a week later.
Giving the movie the absolute highest benefit of the doubt, Wish Upon is “The Monkey’s Paw” for dating teenagers. Clare Shannon (Joey King, who I can see having a real career in the future, sans what is going on here) is a social pariah because her dad (Ryan Phillippe) won’t stop dumpster diving across the street from her high school where everyone can see. This leaves her with only 3 friends, including Meredith played by Sydney Park who steals the movie by giving her character a vibrant personality seemingly against explicit instruction from director John Leonetti to the entire cast to be as flat and vacant as possible. It also includes Ryan (Ki Hong Lee, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) who pines away for Clare while she pines away for the school jock.
Enter the Chinese music box that dad finds in the trash which gifts Clare with seven magic wishes. The possibilities here are potentially pretty delicious even as a simple high school revenge film. Movie reviewers and armchair critics will virtue signal about how they would use their wishes for “world peace” or some nonsense, but honestly, most people would just use them like Clare does – to selfishly solve their own immediate problems. Clare very quickly realizes her wishes are coming true and keeps making wishes. Then she learns that he wishes are having deadly consequences and, unphased, continues to make wishes in a way that makes the character look like a far worse human being than the movie and King probably intended.
My assumption that the script was banged out in a week is kind of evidenced by how fast, loose and convoluted the rules of the music box are. The box opens up and somehow claims a blood sacrifice. At first it seems to be someone directly related to the wish, then it appears to be someone in Clare’s life, then it appears to be randomly deciding between anyone in an odd sequence that jump-cuts back and forth between two potential victims. How it claims it’s victims is by orchestrated freak accidents straight out the Final Destination series, from slipping in a bathtub to more elaborate not-quite-Rube Goldberg sequences of mis-direction involving elevators, garbage disposals, car tires and, hilariously, a chainsaw trimming a tree branch. And then, on top of all this, the movie goes to work building another layer to the mythology regarding what happens to the wisher themselves – and then breaks that rule in the most critical moment when the movie should just be hitting its final jump. Not even a weird, wordless Jerry O’Connell flashback cameo can make sense of it.
I will say I laughed out loud a few times here. Wish Upon often dips into so-bad-it’s-funny territory. After Clare wishes the jock in the school would fall in love with her, he follows her around like a pathetic, expressionless puppy. After she wishes her father would “stop being so lame” he stops dumpster diving and starts dressing in all black and holding late night solo jam sessions on his saxophone. The movie also sounds like it was written by someone with no awareness for how teenagers actually talk. The teens in this movie drop slang nobody would ever use. When Ryan and Clare discover they have something in common, Lee has to deliver the line “you dig on multi-verses”. You know, that very niche concept of multi-verses. The basis for several major TV shows.
The whole premise and all it’s nasty promise gets buried under a convoluted wreck of half thought rules, misplaced priorities and what I assume to be the horror sequences that Leonetti fumbles around without the foggiest idea how they should play. Forget making them tense, we’re miles away from creating tension here. At best Wish Upon could have been salvaged with a sleazy B-movie exploitation tone, but that wouldn’t appeal to the dating teenagers who dig on multi-verses and saxophones.