WISH UPON shoots for thrills and gets low rent Final Destination
If you’re over 30, Wish Upon feels familiar. We remember the spate of teen horror films following I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), and Scream (1996) about outcasts and popularity and the horror of high school. We also remember the Scholastic versions of W.W. Jacobs 1902 tale, “The Monkey’s Paw” and its mummified talisman finding terrible ways to give us exactly what we wish for.
Clare (Joey King) is the high school everyman misfit – she has her friends, Meredith (Sydney Park) and June (Shannon Purser, Barb from Stranger Things!), she has her art, and she has a boy she really, really likes. What she doesn’t have is the life that would make all of those effortless and carefree. Her mother (Elizabeth Rohm, Law and Order) committed suicide many years before, and father (Ryan Phillippe, Shooter) turned to garbage picking for solace. One day he finds an ornate Chinese puzzle box to give to Clare on her birthday. She knows just enough Chinese (thanks, Ohio public schools!) to read that the bearer of the box can make 7 wishes. Ohio public schools clearly never taught classic gothic short stories in English (thanks, Ohio public schools!) because no magical box of wishing never comes with strings. In time, not only to Clare’s wishes’ come true, but those around her begin to die. The bigger the wish, the closer the death. The pay off – as Clare begins to realize the havoc her wishes are causing, the less she seems to care. She even employs high school crush Ryan (Ki Hong Lee) to help her decipher the “ancient characters” from his super cool warehouse-loft living cousin, Gina – because that’s way better than visiting a tea shop and calling upon the services of an old blind Chinese woman who reads fortunes. This movie totally wanted to do that, and only just managed to avoid that disaster. She has the life she’s always wanted, and to her it’s more than worth the pain to others. The box itself comes with a final price, one she either can’t fully accept or doesn’t completely comprehend. It’s a nice twist on a Final Girl trope – she survives because she kills nearly everyone around her with own desires. She’s the dreaded things under the bed, with her new-found popularity, love, money, and complete lack of a conscience. She becomes the kind of person no one particularly likes by being exactly true to herself.
There were some missed opportunities in this film. At one point, she wishes to be the most-popular girl in school. She gets her wish and suddenly everyone likes her and she’s invited to party by the boy she likes. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop because unlike her other wishes, it’s not explained why she is suddenly in demand, not an elaborate pranks or circulated compromising photos. And that’s when the movie slowly leaves the realm of horribly possible to pure fantasy. Her last few wishes are impossible with zero explanation (other than madness, but not even that really works). For me that was the letdown. Wishing for a dead loved one to return and getting exactly that was the keystone to W.W. Jacob’s story.
This is not an original film by any stretch, and for a PG-13 film, it’s not the scariest thing on the block. There was some fine misdirection near the beginning of the 3rd Act when the death to fulfil Clare’s wish was a race between car by the side of the road and a multi-story elevator drop. That was exciting, and the film needed a few more of those. This is Final Destination (2000) for the teens who haven’t seen Final Destination or dozens of movies just like it, so this might be exactly what that Friday night group date needs. For the rest of us, it’s a matinee popcorn movie that makes us pine for the days when horror for teens had a few teeth.
Wish Upon is rated PG-13 for swears, mechanical and mundane deaths, and necrotizing fasciitis.