Young Clare Shannon (Joey King) is having a rough go. As a child, she watched her mom hang herself. After that tragedy, her dad (Ryan Phillippe) totally abandoned his sweet saxophone skills in favor of his career as a dumpster diver, which is, of course, a constant source of embarrassment to Clare. High school sucks and is full of mean girls, her dream boy doesn’t know she exists, and she only has two friends, June (Shannon Purser) and Meredith (Sydney Park). If Wish Upon sounds like a familiar set up, you’re not wrong.
And if you expect an external force to enter into the situation and stir the pot, you’re not wrong there either. When dad trash picks a mysterious music box covered in obscure Chinese characters (so obscure Clare’s Chinese teacher can’t even decipher the meaning even though he teaches the language!), things take a seemingly positive turn. See, all Clare has to do is hold the artifact, make a wish, and boom, like magic, it happens. They get a new house, Clare gets a hunky boyfriend, and everything’s coming up Milhous. Sounds great, right? She certainly thinks so. At least at first. But here’s the kicker: for every wish Clare makes, someone she loves dies. Bummer.
Director John R. Leonetti (Annabelle) and writer Barbara Marshall (Terra Nova) know precisely what movie they’re making with Wish Upon. It’s cheesy, not particularly original or scary, and kind of dumb, but they have fun playing with all of that. Not in a winking, self-referential, meta way, but in a what-the-hell, let’s-go-for-broke fashion that results in an entertaining watch.
While the characters may have no clue what’s going on, the audience has no doubt. With a Final Destination flair, we watch as Sherilyn Fenn reaches into the garbage disposal, that big horror movie no-no. (I can never live in a house with a garbage disposal thanks to horror movies.) We’re just waiting for the inevitable to happen. But hold up, right behind her the gas stove rumbles and shakes like it’s about t blow. Oh dang, maybe that’s how she goes out. The end result holds no mystery or tension, it’s in the means and delivery system where questions lie.
Watching Wish Upon basically amounts to: is he going to get crushed by a car or hit by a truck? Is this friend or that friend the one who’s about to die? It constantly edges viewers closer to the precipice, only to pull back, teasing the audience and having a damn fine time doing it. There’s not much substance, and it never really looks the ethical and moral implications of Clare's decisions, but it’s moderately entertaining.
Nothing about Wish Upon stands out in any way. It doesn’t push the bounds of horror or add anything new to the genre. Then again, it doesn’t try to. This is quick, to-the-point genre fare. It has a bit of a hook—the Eastern mysticism angle is awkward, but the film never dwells too heavily on that—but by and large, it’s content to be what it is, and that might be enough.
Though it’s destined to be largely forgotten, Wish Upon remains watchable. The plot mechanics are painfully obvious, but the pace bounces along without getting hung up on the details. For example, when things begin to look up for the family, Clare’s dad starts belting out sweet, sweet sax jams again. Then like a scene later he’s already in a band playing gigs. Sure, why not?
Best viewed with a roomful of like-minded people, and probably a few choice intoxicants, Wish Upon delivers a nice momentary genre distraction before it fades into toothless, PG-13 horror obscurity. [Grade: C+]