When the PG-13 rating was newly minted, it gave way to a minor wild west on the cinematic landscape. Each subsequent picture released helped define what made up the exact parameters. It helps explain the longevity of those first films and how modern-day efforts have problems capturing that same feel. Those that do prove successful are either remakes of imports (The Ring), small films that appear from nowhere (The Sixth Sense) or genre experiments that are better than they have any right to be (The Shallows, Warm Bodies). So where does Wish Upon fall on that scale? Kicking and screaming in the bargain bin, desperate for attention.
The basics of the story are ones that have been done several times before. Clare (Joey King) is a semi-typical put-upon high school sophomore. When she was younger, she witnessed her mother commit suicide. An event that a decade later still looms large over her household. It’s infected her father (Ryan Phillippe) too, who collects scrap daily, drinking his nights away. Her only respite comes in two best friends, who help build a supportive foundation, thanks in part to their outspoken demeanor.
Still, since she’s a teenager, she’s subjected to bullying that threatens to crumble her delicate mental state. One day, during his regular dumpster diving, her father comes across an ornate Chinese music box. While beautiful on the outside, the inside harbors a dark secret. It possesses the ability to grant its owner seven wishes, but the price for each must be paid in blood.
Where Wish Upon does manage a couple points is in the novel concept of directly targeting its key demographic. Namely, this comes in the form of adding all the trappings of a sordid, yet boring, YA adaptation. Sure, these moments are mostly limited to surface level additions, concerning the trials and tribulations of young. That’s really a shame, as it’s exactly the kind of injection a PG-13 horror flick needs.
Character motivations are largely missing and hinted development never fully explored. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the human condition can tell there’s more to Pa’s hauling and hoarding. Rather than have the heroine confront him, Wish Upon is content having Clare appear annoyed or embarrassed by his actions. In fact, she wastes one of her wishes on the desire for her father to clean up his act. Of course, all could be forgiven if at any point the protagonist took a chance to look within, question their petty desires and grow. Instead, all sense of pacing is thrown out of wack as four wishes are wasted before the 30-minute mark.
Unfortunately, the film is happy to wallow in shallow waters, focusing more on being an also ran of the Final Destination or Wishmaster series, than on being an intriguing new property. This trickles down to the kills as well, usually a highlight of such films. Here they strive to push the rating to its brink, but never really engage the audience.So how then do the actors fare in such circumstances? Commendably actually, even in the face of certain failure. The cast itself is rather diversely spread, ranging from young up-and-comers (King, Sydney Park) to seasoned vets (Phillippe, Sherilyn Fenn) and the current genre “it” sidekick, Shannon Purser. Heck, there’s even a surprise cameo that is so out of left field, it almost borders on becoming unintentionally hilarious.
None of this takes into account times things get brazenly idiotic. Audiences are willing champion a film where bad intentions at least come off as enjoyable. Instead, it comes off as belittling to the viewers, trying to convince them tonal shifts are due to the magic inherent in the film and not just bad writing. A third act revelation is held within an object that has no right existing, seeing as how the wish that brings it into being should be fractured by presence alone.
General Sloppiness never lets up, weaving a web that infects editing, suspense and directing alike. The last bit isn’t exactly a surprise, as John Leonetti’s earlier works include Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2.
Somewhere inside all the malarkey thrown at the screen is a decent-to-good film begging to break free, a film that takes stock in their characters, or at least presents a compelling lead. Here it boils down to a lesson on “what not to do” in a horror film.
Most people who go to see the film will wish they forget what they saw as soon as it’s over. Which is fine, since the only casualty would be a franchise the filmmakers are so desperate to set up. Chose any movie that’s come out this year and you’re likely to find a more enjoyable use of your time. Yes, any film.