Wish Upon (2017) Review
Wish Upon was directed by John R. Leonetti (Annabelle, Lullaby), written by Barbara Marshall (The Bad Seed Returns, Soccer Mom Madam) and stars Joey King (The Princess, Slender Man), Ki Hong Lee (The Maze Runner, Looks That Kill), Sydney Park (The Walking Dead, Spork), Shannon Purser (Riverdale, Stranger Things), Mitchell Slaggert (Moss, Spare Room), Josephine Langford (Moxie, After We Fall), and Ryan Phillippe (American Murderer, One Shot). It’s about a teenager who finds a box that grants wishes at the cost of a life with each wish, and must decide what to do with the box.
The Plot: W. W. Jacobs’ short story “the Monkey’s Paw” has existed for over a century and by this point has probably spawned a hundred years’ worth of imitators. Wish Upon is one of the worst in the plot department by a large margin. A myriad of subplots start and get dropped within single scenes, a central concept that hardly makes sense, the script strolling through clichés, and awful editing. Clare’s (King) mother hanged herself in her attic for a reason that barely gets touched on.
Ten years later, Clare now lives only with her father Jonathan (Phillippe) in the same old house while dealing with (cynically presented) high school stuff, like being bullied by Darcie (Langford) and adoring Paul (Slaggert) from afar with friends Meredith (Park), June (Purser), and Ryan (Lee). After receiving an old Chinese music box from her father which he found in the dumpster, which Clare takes for some reason, she happens to wish for Darcie to “rot” while holding the box.
Evidently, this box doesn’t understand figures of speech as it does what Clare wishes, only her dog is killed in return. Marshall goes through the motions as Clare researches the box and makes more wishes. No mystery element here. Strangely, people who are unaffected by the box decide to hurt themselves anyway, not that this goes anywhere after the one time. Clare goes on and must decide how to behave with the box in her possession. With the box taking things so literally, it’s difficult to imagine why more thoughtful wishes aren’t made and ways to circumvent the consequences aren’t attempted, but that’s just par for the course in a Leonetti movie.
The Characters: Equally abysmal are the characters, who all spout dialogue that’s delivered with broad performances and written with the same level of inauthenticity. Clare is one of the most boneheaded and selfish characters I’ve ever seen in any movie. Everything is “me, me, me” when she speaks. She doesn’t like her father because he dumpster dives, her hobbies are the most cynical and generic things, including going shopping at the mall (montage included) and getting endless amounts of takeout; and she continues to make wishes when she knows the consequences, AND those wishes are insanely shortsighted.
Watching her didn’t just make me want to yell at the screen, it made me want to break my monitor. Meredith, June, and Ryan are all walking, talking personifications of how writers born three generations ago think the current one acts, and Darcie is somehow worse; embodying the stereotype that Mean Girls had lampooned over a decade ago when the movie was released. Jonathan at least has something to him in having lost his wife to the box without his knowledge, spiralling into malaise and reminiscence about his failures. If anyone deserved to get a wish out of the box, it’s Jonathan, the man’s been through enough, and that’s excluding his daughter’s blithering idiocy.
The Horror: Wish Upon attempts to combine the backfiring desires of “the Monkey’s Paw” with the deaths of the Final Destination franchise, and fails miserably at both. The box taking things at face value leaves no room for creative comeuppance, with characters just dying shortly after a wish is made. There’s no “be careful what you wish for” inspired double edge in which a similar fate or effect comes back around to bite Clare, which diminishes the already minimal opportunities to create a unique gimmick.
Grisly deaths are kind of attempted, I think. Possibly. Leonetti doesn’t think (I could just stop that thought right there, and I’d still be right) to pace those deaths out either, instead electing to keep viewers’ attention with immediate cause-and-effect demises following Clare’s wishes.
Moments that are shot to bring focus on shocking and brutal R-rated deaths are edited down to PG-13 levels of censorship, with jumpy cinematography and blood colour-corrected to black. It makes sense when paired with the artificial teen dialogue and pastimes but is confusing when you stop to think about why it was shot that way in the first place. Leonetti even goes into his bag of tricks (it’s more like a coin toss between two tricks, really) from Annabelle and tries to make the box opening a horrifying event. I’d say it was a nice try, but I’d be wrong.
The Technics: Dialogue, editing, misshapen plot, and non-scares aside; the other big flaw is Leonetti’s handling of tone. The movie begins with Clare riding a bicycle alongside her dog, under the supervision of her friendly neighbour, with upbeat music playing loudly, only to switch to Clare’s mother hanging herself in front of her. Brutal, I know, but then the movie cuts to Clare riding a bike with more upbeat music as she says hello to her neighbours and friends.
Imagine that kind of shift for 90 minutes. Excepting for death scenes, the movie is at least competently shot by Michael Galbraith (Dark Web: Cicada 3301, Encrypt). Nothing looks above average at all, but this small positive is worth pointing out when there’s little else to latch on to. It does appear as though there were reshoots if Phillippe’s occasionally fake facial hair is anything to go by. Wish Upon is slapdash on almost every level. It’s almost admirable in its near-complete ineptitude.
Wish Upon isn’t scary, original, investing, well-written, well-directed, or well-acted aside from Phillippe. A mystery movie surrounding the continued career of John R. Leonetti is more in order than a sequel, that’s for sure.