Wish Upon (2017) Review

wu1WISH UPON (2017)

Dir: John R Leonetti
Stars: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Sydney Park, Shannon Purser, Mitchell Slaggert, Ki Hong Lee, Elisabeth Rohm, Sherilyn Fenn

Released 28 July by Orion Pictures

Clare (Joey King) is a teenager who has plenty to deal with. After her mother committed suicide before her eyes when she was little, her father Jonathan (Nineties star Ryan Phillippe) has struggled to make ends meet, resorting to scavenging for valuables in dumpsters. This makes Clare a target for bullying from the popular kids at school and leaves her without the confidence to pursue her unrequited crush on handsome fellow student Paul (Mitchell Slaggert).

But this all changes when her father discovers a curious music box – one that Clare soon learns has the power to grant wishes. After turning her fortunes around, Clare is living a charmed life… until she realises there is a price to pay for each wish.

I think it’s best to cut to the chase and state that Wish Upon is very much a teen horror movie. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but if you’re expecting the complexity and emotional depth of a Babadook or The Witch, you will be disappointed. This is Blumhouse-style horror, nothing more and nothing less.
Instead Wish Upon is a fun update on The Monkey’s Paw for the Pokemon Go generation.

wu2A blend of Wishmaster and Final Destination, with a little The Craft sprinkled in for good measure, director Leonetti delivers a film that looks great and even manages to deliver a couple of moments of surprising gore and spookiness. Yes, this does include a couple of feeble jump-scares, but we’re now at the point when I feel those are inevitable in a new release. One effectively tense sequence during a thunderstorm is a real highlight.

The cast are all competent at worst, with King carrying the bulk of the film’s emotional weight admirably. Last seen by genre fans in The Conjuring, she is developing into a very impressive actress. She is ably backed up by the supremely likeable trio of standout co-stars Ki Hong Lee, Shannon Purser and the scene-stealing Sydney Park, who is certainly a face to look out for in the future. It certainly helps that each of the characters gets to recite well-written and often very witty dialogue from Barbara Marshall’s sharp screenplay.

There’s also some eye-catching production design on display, especially in the sinister music box which feels like a nice mix between the creations of Guillermo Del Toro and Hellraiser’s infamous Lament Configuration puzzle box. I imagine a line of replicas will be forthcoming and will make a significant amount of cash!

wu3However, the film does have some flaws. It isn’t the most original of plot lines (at times lifting quite heavily from the superior films that came before) and the story is perhaps a little too simple, missing some opportunities to be cleverer. Also, some emotional beats miss their mark by some distance (every cool-dad-saxophone scene is excruciatingly cringe-worthy) and, sadly, the ending is heavily telegraphed and marred by some iffy effects work.

Nonetheless Wish Upon is an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes, and I imagine it will go over very well with youngsters who are only just discovering the genre.

Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay it is that Wish Upon feels like a fun, intriguing, opening chapter of a new sleeper franchise – and I will certainly be on board for any further instalments.

6/10

Raze (2013) DVD Review

raze1Raze (2013)

Directed – Josh C Waller

Starring – Zoe Bell, Rachel Nichols, Tracie Thoms, Sherilyn Fenn, Doug Jones, Bruce Thomas.

 

Released in the UK by Koch Media – 16th June 2014.

 

After a night out a young woman awakes and finds herself locked up in some sort of cell, the doors open and she meets another woman who tells her they must fight and only the winner will survive.

 

In the compound there are 50 women, all of them must fight to the death until there is just one remaining. If anyone refuses to fight then the powers that be have a member of their family who will be shot and killed. There are a married couple who are running this underground fatal fight club, and they are Joseph played by the wonderful Doug Jones (Pans Labyrinth, Hellboy) and Elizabeth played by my teenage crush Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks, Boxing Helena) . They are also ably assisted by a group of seemingly ex-military types who guard the woman and they are led by Kurtz (Bruce Thomas – Army of Darkness) .

 

raze3The women fight in a circular stonewalled pit, and the bouts are viewed by an unknown audience via CCTV cameras positioned on the walls of the pit, and after each match you can hear clapping in the distance.

 

The main story focuses on Sabrina played by Zoe Bell (Kill Bill) who does not want to kill anyone but also does not want her daughter to be killed either. So she is very much caught up in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. The women also get to know each other and form small alliances and friendships which helps them survive the situation in the short-term but when they are pitted against each other then emotions really are tested.

 

Raze is a very tough watch at times. It is hugely violent, very brutal and at times pulsing with raw emotion. Zoe Bell is a revelation here, she holds the whole thing together and physically she really did look like she has been to hell and back by the end of the film.

 

Is is great to see Zoe finally take a films lead and go with it. She is as many people know a massively gifted and hardworking stunt woman from such films as Kill Bill 1 & 2 (Uma Thurmans double) and she started her career in Zena , but here she really comes into her own with a powerful and emotionally driven performance that just carries the entire film.

 

raze2But that aside there are some fine performances from a host of other actors including Tracie Thoms (Looper, Deathproof), Bailey Anne Borders (Coldwater), Rebecca Marshall (Saw 3D, Repo the Genetic Opera), Adrienne Wilkinson and Allene Quincy. And I mustn’t forget Doug Jones & Sherilyn Fenn who just rock-it as the crazy married couple running the show, and who act like (and I read this somewhere and totally agreed) they just stepped off a John Waters set. They give a little light relief in what is a really brutal assault of a film.

 

Imagine Bloodsport but with a female cast, more blood, more violence and less hope and you get a little of what Raze is about. There are (no pun intended) no punches pulled here, when two women enter the pit you know only one will survive. There are no escape options, you win or die and from a viewers perspective it is a really nihilistic and uncomfortable watch.

 

raze4Raze pushes the limits with it’s violence, and I expect it will be seen by a few as ‘too much’ due to the fact that all the fighters are female. But I think it got it bang on, there are no weapons and no tactics (other than mind-games) , it just literally is survival of the strongest. And I know there will be questions over the ending but I loved it!

 

Raze is a film that should have you thinking long after the credits, it is a very brave film that through the strength of the performances and a strong direction comes across as a true modern genre classic. One of THE best films released in 2014 so far and definitely worth a watch when it arrives in the UK on DVD in June.

 

8.5/10