WISH 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.
A 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!
However, 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.