2017, PG-13, 90 min. Directed by John R. Leonetti. Starring Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Sydney Park, Shannon Purser, Mitchell Slaggert, Elisabeth Röhm, Sherilyn Fenn, Alexander Nunez.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., July 14, 2017
Jiminy Cricket! The dream fulfillments in the wretched horror/comedy Wish Upon come at a bloody price, ripe with psychological promise: For every wish an ancient Chinese music box grants, a life must be offered up in return. Unfortunately, the filmmakers here have no earthly idea how to execute this nifty supernatural conceit (Barbara Marshall’s screenplay appeared on the 2015 Black List), teetering between cheap laughs and cheap thrills without doing either very well.
Mousy high-schooler Clare (a misused King) lives on the outside of life looking in, a sad-sack sophomore who dreams of the things most girls her age crave (or so we’re told): wealth, respectability, popularity, and a hottie blond boyfriend resembling Mark-Paul Gosselaar in his Saved by the Bell heyday (a dumb-as-fuck Slaggert). So when her broken-down, junk-collecting daddy (Phillippe) gives her an Oriental octagonal box with mysterious powers, Clare wastes no time obsessively asking for everything but the moon, seemingly oblivious to the deaths (both canine and human) that coincidentally accompany each granted request. The pace of Wish Upon should build with grisly suspense as Clare realizes the consequences of her actions, and yet can’t squelch the desire for something more. It’s the American dream as the American nightmare or, maybe, as the ultimate addiction. But there’s nominal continuity between the sporadic scenes depicting the upside (a modernist mansion; the adulation of your peers) and the downside (the best demise: death by long, braided hippie hair caught in the garbage disposal) of each fulfilled wish. The movie seems to take place in an alternate multiverse that time literally forgot. The minutes seem like hours, the hours like minutes.
Wish Upon is yet another high-concept, low-budget (here: $12 million) enterprise that aims to make a fast buck with minimal effort. There’s nothing wrong with that business objective, but the timidity with which this movie proceeds goes against the grain of everything it should stand for. Aside from its bonkers It’s a Wonderful Life ending (as well as Park’s sassy turn as one of Clare’s BFFs), there’s nothing much here to distinguish it from other idiotic entries in the genre, most of which primarily depend upon turning up the volume to elicit scares (e.g., The Conjuring and Annabelle franchises). The scariest thing in Wish Upon? A seriously intent Phillippe pantomiming a wailing saxophone in the middle of the night. Ah, the horror, the horror. There are some things you can never unsee.