Wish Upon (2017)

JULY 14, 2017


I know I'm not the target audience for teen horror movies, so all I really ask of them is that they're OK enough timekillers and something I can watch with my son in a few years when I deem him old enough for PG/PG-13 fare. But I'd rather he went out and got laid than stayed home wasting his time and insulting his intelligence with Wish Upon, a hopelessly sloppy "Monkey's Paw" variant that can barely get the basics right, let alone what little it adds to the table - I'd wait until he was old enough to get drunk with me and "appreciate" nonsense like this. And by that I mean also laugh at (not "with") all of its clunky writing, at times abysmal direction, and shockingly horror-lite approach to this sort of thing.

In fact, one of the two nice things I can say about the movie is that it doesn't have any fake scares or even that many BOO! moments at all - everything just kind of happens with a shrug, usually telegraphed (poorly) long before it actually occurs. At times, director John Leonetti (Annabelle) and screenwriter Barbara Marshall (co-writer of the pretty good Blumhouse "Tilt" release Viral) throw in some mild Final Destination-y suspense to the proceedings, but otherwise it's only a horror movie in the technical sense - there is only one or two moments in the movie that might make even the least discerning teenage audience shriek, but even they might just laugh at it instead (like I did, sober and by myself at a 10:30 am screening). I give them credit for not falling prey to the "We need to get them jumping every five minutes!" mentality that has sullied any number of horror films aimed at the younger set, but they went too far in the opposite direction.

And that would be fine if the story and characters were involving enough to not even notice, but the script (or, at least, this representation of it - more on that soon) never gives its solid cast anything to work with, and everyone is a stereotype. Our heroine (Joey King) is a high school outcast with two friends of similar social standing, and since she's brunette her class nemesis is a blonde girl of no other distinction, and pretty much everyone else exists only to serve as a victim to the wish box's hazily explained rules. See, this isn't the usual "Monkey's Paw" kind of thing where the wish comes back ironically (like, you wish for someone to be alive and they come back as a zombie) - she gets her wishes and they work as intended, but later on (there's no rhyme or reason to when) the box will open and play some music, at which time it kills someone who had nothing to do with her wish, and in some cases is so unnecessary to the narrative that no one notices they're dead for a few days. There's no real reason for this other than to ensure it takes her most of the movie to figure out the connection between her wishes and people in her life dying, and Marshall botches what I guess was an inadvertent cause and effect scenario: her wish for a crush's returned affections leads to her uncle being killed, and then she wishes to get everything from his will. It'd be ludicrous, but at least kind of cool, to have the box - an old hand at this by now - continue this sort of chain, so that each death inadvertently inspires the next wish in order to keep things moving along, but that's the only time there's any sort of relation (and again, it's not acknowledged anyway).

The other nice thing I can say is that her wishes are typical teenager nonsense: she wishes to be popular, she wishes her dad (Ryan Philippe!) wasn't such an embarrassment (he's a dumpster diver, even though they own a big house), she wishes her bully would "just rot" (not "die", notice). She doesn't go big (a friend admonishes her for not curing cancer) or even particularly "bad" - she just asks for stuff any selfish 16 year old girl might wish for. Since the deaths have no relation and she doesn't even notice most (even her uncle's barely registers much of a reaction) you could remove them from the first hour of the movie and it wouldn't even really change anything; it'd just be a movie about a girl making her life better thanks to some Chinese box her dad found in a dumpster one day. By the time she actually notices (actually, she doesn't - her would-be boyfriend does the legwork and flat out tells her) that her wishes have deadly consequences, the movie is far past the point of being saved, with only the idiotic death scenes to occasionally give it some unintentionally hilarious life.

Now, we all know that horror movie characters have to occasionally act stupid for the plot to work. It's just how it is, and it's something we just accept, like sound in space or everyone in a musical knowing the words to a seemingly spontaneous song. But the Wish Upon creative team forces its actors to at times even unnaturally contort their bodies to make their not-great (and not even original) death scenes work, in particular Sherilyn Fenn's garbage disposal one. Like all disposal scenes in horror movies, something goes down the drain and we get a bunch of shots of their hand reaching around in the drain cut with shots of the switch that will turn it on - except this switch isn't on the wall like a normal one - it's BY HER WAIST BELOW THE COUNTER! I can't imagine anything more idiotic, or at least I thought I couldn't - because 30 seconds later she goes for a closer look at the drain and starts awkwardly shaking her head around just to get her long hair in there, and then awkwardly moving again in order to bump the switch and send her to her doom. There's also a bit where Philippe is changing his tire and one of the lug-nuts goes under his car - does he use the tire iron to pull it back? Of course not, he climbs completely under his car (it never occurs to him to just go to the other side of the car to get it, since it's clearly closer to it) so that we can get some half-assed suspense about whether or not the car will fall on him. Another character is also encouraged to awkwardly lean far from his ladder while cutting a tree branch, to the extent where I began wondering if these characters were all suicidal.

Speaking of suicide (my transitions are on fucking POINT), the film begins with a woman hanging herself after throwing away something wrapped up so that we can't see it, but the dog is afraid of it and she gives about forty seven worried glances at the trashcan before going inside to start noosin'. If you've never seen a movie (hell, if you're not even sure what a movie IS) you can still know instantly that the thing is the wish box that will soon wreak havoc on our heroine's life (said woman is her mom, by the way), and yet the movie treats this as a big reveal for some reason, and it's never clear what exactly mom wished for. We can assume it has something to do with the aforementioned uncle character, who Philippe doesn't like much and even tells his daughter not to talk to him, but the reason for his excommunication is never explained. The box also gets one tragic backstory too many, as we learn about its origins from a Chinese woman during the bubonic plague in the 14th century, but then our exposition dumper throws in a few seconds' worth of what I'm betting was originally a full prologue scene starring Jerry O'Connell (think Drew Barrymore or, more recently, Billy Burke in Lights Out), a man who used the box to get a car dealership or something but then his life was torn asunder - it was hard to get the details because I was too distracted by Jerry O'Connell (and Rebecca Romijn!) suddenly appearing in a flurry of random wordless shots, 75 minutes into a movie that had already burned through two other "Older star cashing a paycheck" performances (Fenn and Elizabeth Rohm being the others).

There are other sloppy bits as well; there's an establishing shot that looks like they grabbed it off a VHS tape, and for some reason the main house King and Philippe live in changes each time we see it - when they first move in and throughout the film we can see it's a two or three story white mansion, but then at other times the house is established as a single floor extended ranch kind of deal. King freaks out over her friend (Barb from Stranger Things, basically playing Barb here as well) taking the box from her, but it's not until about 30 seconds after her reaction and subsequent tirade that we even see the box to know what she's talking about, because Leonetti didn't bother to include a cutaway to the damn thing. I know the film had its death scenes trimmed for a PG-13 rating (why they'd shoot R rated deaths for a teenager's wish-fulfillment thriller is beyond me), but there is plenty of evidence to suggest they cut more than the gory bits, and I'm curious if the promised extended Blu-ray will make more sense out of some of its subplots.

Long story short, it's another one to add to the pile of this year's "Not even as good as the "eh" I was expecting" efforts like Rings and The Bye Bye Man, though this at least has a slight edge over those thanks to its unintentional hilarity (there's a bit involving someone getting hit by a car that rivals Meet Joe Black for its misguided excess), and again, I appreciated that they weren't trying to make me jump out of my seat at doorbells and dogs barking and things like that. The idea of getting your actual wishes but making something else awful happen is intriguing (it's not dissimilar from The Box in that regard, sans all the alien shit Richard Kelly added to the scenario), but the aforementioned sloppiness and bad-even-by-teen-horror-standards characterization make it impossible to care about anything that's happening any more than King's character does.

What say you?

P.S. Stay for halfway through the credits for the most obvious and eye-rolling sequel setup ever! Or don't bother since you'll know exactly what it is once the movie has its first ending anyway!


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