Wish Upon and all the images you see in this review are owned by Broad Green Pictures and Orion Pictures
Directed by John R Leonetti
Geez, while everyone else is going to see the new Planet of the Apes movie, I’m stuck watching the horror movie they dumped in theaters to “compete” with it. Sigh… well, you never know! We got a fair amount of REALLY solid horror movies last year and while there were a few at the absolute bottom of the barrel (*cough* Incarnate *cough*) even the more average fare was above what was normally expected. Maybe now that the bad stuff is out the way like The Bye Bye Man (ugh…), we can finally get to some of the better horror movies… right? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows Clare Shannon (Joey King) will soon be the latest victim of some sort of mysterious Chinese wish box that her dad Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe) had found while dumpster diving. Is that like a job you can make a living off of? He doesn’t seem to do anything else in the movie. Anyway, just for a lark it seems, she makes a wish while holding the box and sure enough it comes true! However, the box comes with a terrible price that she’s not made aware of immediately where every wish ends with someone she knows getting killed in very ludicrous ways, and surely there are MORE consequences to be found if she continues to use it! Will she manage to figure out the mysteries of this magic box before it’s too late? Will the new life she gets from making these wishes turn out to be everything she’s always dreamed of? What if she wishes for the box not to kill anyone, or even infinite wishes!? WHAT THEN!?
This movie COULD have been pretty decent given its premise, and there are moments where it shines (particularly the last fifteen minutes BEFORE the ending), but the overall execution is slapdash and derivative which sucks out any enthusiasm I could have had for this. I was REALLY trying too! It was rocky at first, but I was constantly looking for reasons to stay invested in the story which wasn’t easy but doable. Wish granting movies like this, Aladdin, or even the Bedazzled remake (kinda underrated if you ask me!), have a really solid foundation to work from to create an introspective and tension filled character piece with the added benefit of off the wall creative freedom as the wishes themselves can stretch the realm of possibility without breaking believability. If only they had bothered to do that here, or at least do it consistently. THEN we might have had a decent film to write home about (or at least write a review about), but instead it’s wildly predictable, supremely silly but not quite enough so to be campy, and doesn’t even manage to follow its own ridiculous rules which undercuts a lot of the tension and depth that could have been mined from this material. It’s almost ironic that a movie about making wishes manages to feel like monkey’s paw of a film; understanding the general idea of what needs to be done, but almost intentionally going about it in all the wrong ways.
While the movie is derivative of everything from The Twilight Zone to Final Destination, it probably shares the most in common with another oddly nostalgic teen film with a crap ending we got early this year, namely Before I Fall which this movie shares a lot of issues with. There are certainly some stark differences with this movie being more of a straight up jump scare horror while that one was focused more on its coming of age elements, but both are aching for a better teams to bring their concepts to life and end up extremely frustrating because of it. The most important thing for a movie like this is a rock solid and extremely dynamic main character because all the wish based action, no matter how outlandish it gets, has to be grounded by the central character that we’re following throughout the movie as the wishes are merely extensions of the character’s inner turmoil. Sadly, our protagonist Clare just doesn’t have enough going for her (mostly due to the script Joey King was handed to read) to make the central premise all that interesting or impactful. I know I bring this up WAY more than I should, but a character like Walter White in Breaking Bad in such a great example of how to write a character falling victim to his own worst instincts in that it happens in believable increments that make it all the more noteworthy just how far down the rabbit hole he ends up going. For a movie like this which is basically about the question of what is worth giving up in order to get what you want, you NEED that slow decent into madness for it to work which this movie fails to do. Clare’s downfall comes in fits and spurts and it takes her WAY too long to come to the realization of what’s going on and to make a decision on what she should do about it. Okay, referencing Walter White is a bit played out at this point and it’s a bit unfair considering they had five seasons to work with this character, so let’s try something else. Anyone remember The Box? Richard Kelly’s last film before he fell off the face of the Earth? That’s by no means a PERFECT film, but it manages to take its time with what’s REALLY important, namely the choice that Cameron Diaz needs to make, and has sharp enough writing to get us to fully understand her decision in a rather short amount of time. This movie feels like it’s trying to avoid the issue by taking so long for her to understand what’s going on which is kind of a shame considering the last twenty or so minutes really tries to get to that central issue (how far will you go and what will you give up along the way), but it’s too late by that point and feels way too rushed to be all that satisfying.
Even if we try to ignore that neither the central premise nor our main character don’t have a lot of bite to them, it’s still a rather weak horror film in terms of simple visceral thrills. I’ll give them credit for coming up with some (seemingly intentional) silly kills, but we’re also dealing with a PG-13 here which limits how far they can go with the blood and gore; something that can legitimately boost a movie’s score if it doesn’t have a competent story to follow. Speaking of competent stories, this film doesn’t just fail to satisfy on a character level, but it also feels disjointed as all hell as subplots and characters come and go at extremely awkward times. I THINK there was an implication that one of the teens was gonna get with Clare’s dad, the PERFECT BOYFRIEND subplot just fizzles out in an oddly anti-climactic scene, and what should be one of the most important points of the movie (what could be considered a GOOD wish from Clare) never fully manifests into something meaningful or important. It’s just so shallow from beginning to end when that’s the exact opposite of what you’d want from a movie with this kind of premise.
Now from here on out, I’m gonna get a bit into spoiler territory and while I’m CERTAIN that the ending will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, I’d suggest you turn back now if you ACTUALLY want to see the movie. We good? Alright. A few movies this year had me discussing what I like to call the Investment and Payoff Balance which is the way a movie handles it’s intentionally negative, dour, and unpleasant moments so as not to needlessly punish the audience (i.e. ME) for sitting through a movie in the first place. Horror movies have a pretty bad habit of handling this (particularly it comes to its endings) and after seeing this movie, it felt like I came to some sort of realization that was always just out of reach. I simply ask, why does a horror movie have to have a bad ending? Okay, not ALL horror movies have bad endings but they seem to come up more and more with recent movies (I’d point the finger at the decline of the slasher genre, but that’s a huge discussion in and of itself) and I’m just getting sick of them. It feels… unnecessary I guess and bitter endings have ruined more than one movie for me in the past (*cough* Drag Me To Hell *cough*). I think what really gets to me is how often the film has to bend over backwards and even bend its own rules or make the ending inexplicable in order to justify ending on a down note (failing to even justify itself with the Thermian Argument) and this film is a particularly egregious example of that. The movie tells us the rules of the box explicitly and even shows example after example of what happens to someone who uses the box… but then the ending has something ELSE happen to Clare which is no less horrifying I guess but COMPLETELY different from what the movie had been reiterating to us constantly throughout its run time. Not only that, but it comes at a really lousy time considering how well things had played out in the previous fifteen to twenty minutes and it just feels so… blunt for a movie that (at least in the third act) tried to be something a bit more engaging.
Now to give this movie its due, there were a few things I liked and should probably mention in a bit more detail. There’s a certain campiness to this that makes SOME scene work really well (Ryan Phillippe playing a saxophone is the sexist thing ever) but it doesn’t quite work all the way through. I think they were going for something similar with the boyfriend in this who looks distressingly like Zach Cregger, but the situation is too creepy (and not in the fun horror sense) to mine a lot of humor out of. The third act when Clare finally has a firm grasp on what’s going on and starts to get more and more distressed is actually rather well realized for the most part even if it comes in too late into the movie, and the last two wishes are really interesting to watch play out. There is stuff here to like, both legitimately and ironically, but for the most part it’s mediocre Pablum that could have been a lot more with just a few more passes on the script and a stronger idea of what it ultimately wanted to be.
This is FAR from the worst horror movie I’ve seen this year, especially considering we’ve got The Bye Bye Man and Rings to compare it to, but this is certainly nothing to write home about. It at least has a modicum of ambition in certain areas, particularly as we head into the ending, but then in other areas it’s beyond cliché and lazy with a predictable plot and uninteresting characters working their way through it. 2016 managed to be a pretty solid year for horror all things considered, but if the best they have to offer this year is a sub par wish movie and a prequel to Annabelle… well let’s just say that I’d be tempted to use that wish box too just so I can wish to see something decent from this genre.