It’s a variation of a good luck, Chinese Wish Pot, but with a major difference. Instead of writing your wishes on paper, then placing that wish within the pot, with this particular Chinese ornate box there’s no need for the written word. All you do is place your hands on the top then say what you want; it’ll happen. Guaranteed. But there’s a price, and by the time you realize what that price is you’ll wish you’d never found the box, but by then… well, you’ve got where this is going.
In the new teenage horror, Wish Upon, high-schooler from the poorer side of town, Clare Shannon (Joey King) is given what looks like a music box by her father (Ryan Phillipe). He’s clearing out the house, and that box with the ancient Chinese engravings is something he’s found up in the attic. At this point, neither he nor Clare know it, but it’s the box that made Clare’s mother take her life when Clare was just a little girl. But we know it because it all happened during the opening segment to the film. And now, years later, that box has passed on to the daughter, and history is about to repeat itself.
In the way that these things happen in teenage horror movies, when Clare first discovers the power of the box, it comes by accident. One of the mean girls at school with the cool clothes and the long blonde hair, Darcie Langford (Josephine Langford) continually berates, humiliates, and cyberbullies Clare. One evening, when the high-schooler just happens to have her hands on her new found antique, she states, “I wish… I wish, Darcie Chapman… I don’t know, but, like, just rots.” The following morning, poor Darcie wakes up with most of her legs and parts of her face eaten away.
Then there’s the second wish. “I wish Paul Middlebrook falls madly in love with me.” And again, as these things might happen if you have an ancient wish box in your possession, the next day at school, Paul (Mitchell Slagert) ignores his regular, gorgeous girlfriend (another of those mean girls) and instead leers suspiciously near Clare.
By the third wish, the one where Clare wishes she gets everything left in the will of a recently deceased, wealthy relative, and it happens, you’d think that by now she might be piecing things together. But what she doesn’t know is that the deadly payment collected for each of those wishes has also occurred, one involving Clare’s dog. Yes, the film commits the cardinal sin; the dog dies, and if by now you’re thinking you’ve read too many plot-spoilers, forget it. In a film that was probably pitched as Wishmaster meets Final Destination crossed with Mean Girls, you pretty much have the whole thing figured out long before Clare even has a clue. Don’t these teenagers ever go to the movies?
If you’re sensing a facetious tone to the review, trust your senses. It comes from exasperation. It’s not so much the obviousness of the plot – given its target audience, if the film succeeds at anything, it’s knowing what might make for a Friday night date at the multiplex on opening weekend before box-office suddenly plummets – it’s the total lack of anything even remotely connected to authentic, cinematic horror.
Sure, horrific things occur. Dog lovers might get upset, and wondering if nice neighbor, Mrs. Deluca (Sherilyn Fenn) will loose her fingers in the sink disposal unit, Final Destination style, makes for a brief, tense moment, but in Wish Upon there’s nothing to be afraid of. There’s not even a Boo moment, one of those sudden occurrences that make you jump. Nothing. It all feels like a tepid, by the numbers approach with its formula firmly intact, and outcomes and reveals you already know long before anyone on screen gets the idea. The closest to anything inventive that might have you guessing comes when the evil within the box has two victims from which to choose. Will it kill the girl trapped in the elevator or will it go for Clare’s dad while he changes a flat at the side of a dark road? You might hope for both, just to break the pattern and make things interesting, but convention dictates only one will get it.
Worse, when it suits the script, the film doesn’t even stick to its own rules. When Clare wishes that the whole of high-school adore her (she gets invited to the coolest parties, and everyone fawns over her, even the mean girl) her two best girlfriends, currently annoyed with her for ignoring them during her magically wish-fulfilled, new-found popularity, appear unaffected. They simply remain annoyed until Clare apologizes for her snotty behavior towards them. How did they get to escape the all-encompassing power of the box when everyone else at school around them fell under its spell?
And, yes, there’s even a coda, an extra scene at the end, separate from the overall plot, but included during the middle of the credits, suggesting the box will pass on to another owner, and the same story will be told all over again but with a new set of wishes and different victims. If there’s to be a number 2, let’s wish they try a little harder. At least the Final Destination series gave its audience a spectacular opening before all that the regular stuff kicked in.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 90 Minutes Overall Rating: 3 (out of 10)