An entertaining and, at times, completely bonkers approach to filmmaking!
by Steve Pulaski
Well, my wish was certainly granted. John R. Leonetti's Wish Upon, the latest in low-budget, schlocky horror to get a lucky theatrical release in North America, is a supremely entertaining, crafty thriller with a great subtext. It's exactly the kind of film that will haunt me beyond initial impact as I will surely receive emails and comments hastily reminding me my appreciation for it the next time I give a critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated drama a negative review.
Wish Upon plays like a contemporary reimagining of W. W. Jacobs' thrilling novel The Monkey's Paw as it deceptively hits you with its humble wit and method behind its sheer, PG-13-rated madness. It concerns a teenager named Clare Shannon (Joey King), who is sick of her existence as a nobody at her high school. Armed with a couple smart-ass friends (Sydney Park and Shannon Purser) and a routinely embarrassing father (Ryan Phillippe) who works as a scrap-collector, Clare slogs through each day until she realizes she may not have to anymore.
Clare's father brings home a large, locked, octagonal music box with ancient Chinese calligraphy written all over it. After another day of being harassed by the school bully, Clare impulsively clutches the box and wishes that her nemesis would just "go rot." The following day, the queen bitch of the high school is stricken with a flesh-eating virus that might result in her toes and arms being amputated. However, Clare soon realizes the consequences of making a wish come back around to her by forces of the world injuring or even killing someone close to her. This is the kind of karmic revenge that evens the music box's - later known as a "wish pot" - playing field and sends Clare on a selfish trip through disregarding consequences in favor of social advancement.
There's a wonderful satire about the culture of self-absorption embedded in Wish Upon as it depicts a teenage girl part of the era where going viral or being "Vine famous" is more important than safety, logic, or even human life. During this time, Clare enlists in the help of Ryan (Ki Hong Lee), a kid who happens to have a cousin who is fluent in Chinese both ancient and modern and helps give Clare information regarding the wish pot's origins and instructions as outlined on its eight sides.
We watch as Clare selfishly and stupidly continues taking advantage of the wish pot's powers, discarding the obvious threats it poses to both her and her family. Her friends become alienated, especially Meredith (Park), who, at one point in the film, calls her a "selfish bowl of bitch-sauce." I've never heard such an expression, nor have I ever heard most expressions and slang that Meredith uses over the course of Wish Upon. But I intensely dug it and her thoroughly embraced performance .
Wish Upon has the right balance of not taking itself too seriously while also loaning itself to developing its central subtext as well as the mythology behind its wish pot. It reminded me of this year's The Bye Bye Man, another horror film I praised for allowing the demon at the core of its story to be explored in a marginally deep manner. The backstory to these paranormal films and those that revolve around inanimate objects that are haunted or demonic possessions is essential. Maybe my fatigue with the lack of exposition in the Paranormal Activity franchise led me to give such high praise to films like the previously mentioned two.
But Wish Upon is entertaining, if sometimes completely bonkers, and the convictions and process linked to the wish pot obtaining the "blood-letter" catch 22 associated with making a wish reminded me of Final Destination. There are moments of very credible suspense, and everything from the language to the deaths do a bit to push the boundaries of what's allowed in a PG-13 horror film. Despite this handicap, the film never feels like it's copping out nor losing credibility.
Finally, I must give credit to screenwriter Barbara Marshall for allowing a pessimistic pre-credits and post-credits ending to wrap up this film. I find this especially important given my dissatisfaction with the way 47 Meters Down ended when it was inches away from having a courageous Mist-caliber conclusion that unfortunately backpedaled into being more of a cop-out. Wish Upon is an intensely enjoyable thriller, one that probably would've been better suited in September or October, and maybe more appreciated during that time as well.
Steve's Grade: B+