John R. Leonetti’s Wish Upon is just another face in the millennial horror crowd. Or just another byte uploaded to “The Cloud,” more appropriately? Barbara Marshall’s script cobbles together poison-tonged teenagers, ancient Chinese curses, “embarrassing” not-called-Instagram-but-still-Instagram videos – and sexy Ryan Phillippe saxophone solos. We’re talking smooth-jazz smoldering and bluesy late-night crooning. An odd accent on damnation by selfishness? Not from a horror movie that knots hair-pulling tension (specific reference, yes) but is far less clever than any mystical plot suggests.
Joey King stars as Clare Shannon, a no-name “dork” who’s your token “nobody.” Best friends June (Shannon Purser) and Meredith (Sydney Park) call her a try-hard, mean-girl Darcie (Josephine Langford) humiliates her, pops Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe) dumpster-dives in public sight – life is hard for Clare until Jonathan scores a reddish box with Chinese symbols. That’s when her deepest desires start to come true in the most literal senses. Clare’s bully begins to “rot,” wealth is inherited, popularity is gained. All fun and games, except for the blood sacrifice that’s ignored every time one of Clare’s fantasies comes true. Can her death-dealing whatchamacallit be stopped before it’s too late?
Of course not. Wish Upon lays its tarot cards on a table, and you don’t need a psychic to translate them.
Horror fans can expect a blend of Final Destination and…well, what’s a movie with a lot of suicide? We learn the Mandarin container has been cursed by Lu Mei, who trades a wish for someone’s soul (or the box does in her memory or something). Said victim suffers a tragic accident (Uncle August in the bathroom) or offs themselves on camera (Clare’s own mother commits suicide at the film’s open). Don’t expect Lu Mei to ever appear as an apparition, just her whispers of death enacting a murderous Mouse Trap scenario. Will the poor old lady’s hand be chewed by a garbage disposal? Burned by boiling water? Maybe the unexpected?! Spoiler alert: it’s rarely the unexpected, or very scary for that matter.
Given an inexperienced horror crowd, winces and jitters might prevail. A nice sleepover watch for giddy schoolgirls, perhaps? Experienced genre fans won’t share the same sentiments though, as Wish Upon is more a morality struggle for King’s misguided outcast. Clare’s given unlimited power, and even when deaths become obvious, still thinks more evil wishes can make it all better. She confides in Ki Hong Lee’s skater-punk accomplice – his cousin happens to be an old-world Chinese translator (duh) – who then conveys the whole “blood sacrifice” warning. Does Clare stop? Of course not. Happiness is an addiction when you’ve only known pain. King sells the part, but her motivations are thinly juvenile (a common theme).
Performances elsewhere are Teen Vogue caricatures. Darcie, the bitch without a cause. Meredith, the mouthy iPhone gamer who’d put her life on hold for some paranormal Pokémon GO ripoff. Jonathan, the scruffy schmuck who’s American Pickers obsession is no life to lead. Tyler Manguso (Alexander Nunez) snaps photos and cyber bullies on social media without any repercussions (wanted his death SO bad). Paul Middleton (Mitchell Slaggert) lays down lines that prove why internet shorthand is destroying human communication. Ryan (Ki Hong Lee) helps Clare despite spelling almost certain doom.
Folks, this is what happens when character archetypes are cranked through the Buzzfeed assembly line.
“So Matt, will *I* enjoy Wish Upon?” It’s no featherweight Ouija bomb. Joey King commits to character, and again, must I repeat that Ryan Phillippe belts these left-turn sax solos with arousal on the mind (as Shannon Purser says, he’s like “Sriracha” hot)? Then again, this is a horror movie – laughter during musical interludes shouldn’t be my fondest memory. Nothing that resembles a manifested scare will be recognizable to hardcore horror fans, even with one neck-breaking death and images of self-harm. We’re talking PG-13 “chills,” and a budget that can’t afford a non-CG elevator freefall. You may scream “WHAT’S IN THE BOX!” in your best Brad Pitt voice, but I assure you, it’s nothing memorable and disappointingly predictable. Just another teeny-bopper curse influenced by better movies.
Wish Upon is a Final Destination redux that pulls too many punches.