When a teenager's wishes start to come true through the magic of an ancient Chinese music box, the consequences turn deadly.
The horror-lite “Wish Upon,” from director John R. Leonetti (“Annabelle”) and writer Barbara Marshall (“Viral”), is an allegory on being careful what you wish for. It’s a story perfect for “The Twilight Zone”: a teenager’s desires start to come true when she wishes upon an ancient Chinese music box. The consequences turn deadly.
It’s set in the og-eat-dog world of high school where Clare Shannon (Joey King) is barely surviving the hell that is adolescence. She’s the target of mean-girl bullies (Josephine Langford, Daniela Barbosa) and embarrassed by her dumpster-diving dad (Ryan Phillippe), a pack-rat who searches for junk to sell. On top of it all, Clare pines for the dreamy popular boy (Mitchell Slaggert) and still has nightmares about her mother’s suicide. That’s a lot to pile on a young gal’s shoulders, and the character earns our sympathies from the opening flashback when Clare finds Mom (Elisabeth Röhm) hanging from a rope in the attic.
he story picks up 12 years later. During one of Dad’s junk expeditions – at the cemetery (naturally) – he finds an unique box with Chinese characters inscribed on it. He gives it to Clare. Coincidentally, she knows enough Mandarin to understand the box has the power to grant seven wishes. The first few go like this: For Queen Bee Darcie Chapman “to rot,” and for Paul Middlebrook “to fall madly in love with me,” and for creepy, but rich Uncle August (Victor Sutton) “to leave me everything.” And so it goes. But never mind the mysterious deaths suddenly happening to her loved ones. Lock up your kids, the pets, too, no one’s safe. These demises are not just unusual, they’re downright gruesome and unintentionally hilarious at the same time. One character is scalped when her braid gets stuck in a garbage disposal, another plunges 26 stories in an elevator accident, another dies via chainsaw, and, my favorite, an impalement. It’s as if the filmmakers were brainstorming ideas for the Dumb Ways to Die app and came up with a dumb movie instead.
Eventually, more is revealed about the box. Clare enlists the help of her friends (Ki Hong Lee, Shannon Purser and Sydney Park) to help destroy it – but of course, it’s indestructible. They determine the box demands a “blood price” for granting the wishes.
The director and his cast treat all this ridiculousness with such gravity that hammy dialogue (“I’m trying to think of something dope to say before I kiss you”) and hammier performances (Phillippe playing smooth-jazz on his sax) provoke laughs. For her part, King (“Going in Style”) is let down by a lackluster script rendering Clare unlikable. For the sake of social status, riches and popularity, Clare makes a series of terrible decisions despite the mayhem she leaves in her wake.
Your enjoyment of the film depends on your tolerance for being able to totally predict what will happen, including who’s going to die next. I’m guessing the PG-13 target audience might be game. But for all else, “Wish Upon” is a nightmare you’ll want to wish away.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
WISH UPON (PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language.) Cast Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Mitchell Slaggert, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park. Grade: C