Overview: A socially struggling high school student who carries the trauma of witnessing her mother’s suicide is given a Chinese music box that seems to grant wishes at a dark cost.
A Useless Proposition: Sometimes you know pretty quickly that a movie has no interest in your critical assessment. Sometimes, an opening act fails all analytical tests so thoroughly that you end your evaluation on the front-end and spend the rest of the film hoping that the film’s badness pursues cult classic status with increasingly absurd missteps. Wish Upon, the new teenager-aimed horror from John R. Leonetti, opens with such clumsy over-pronouncement of its parts, including a cold open chapter that lands as far more cruel than necessary (or likely intended) and a school cafeteria showdown that lands like scripted junior high fantasy, that at no point thereafter does it feel possible that a good horror film can be stacked atop the foundation. Luckily, the film embraces the failure as quickly as the viewer or critic can diagnose it. It’s a backhanded compliment from a viewership perspective and a completely value-less critical conclusion, but there are times when Wish Upon is so bad that you almost have to see it.
We’ve Seen It All Before: Horror diehards will recognize the generic-ness of the exercise as being perfectly suited for midnight feature showings for adventurous October teenagers in previous decades. Schlocky and goofy in its overly ambitious and assertive pursuit of jump scares and conceptual fright, Wish Upon’s combining of the Monkey’s Paw folklore with Final Destination’s fatalistic inevitability and death teasing yields an ungraceful and nearly inoperative vehicle built of secondhand cheap parts. Because of this, Wish Upon is most watchable when it’s most bad.
Just Not This Bad: Whether it’s when Clare, the central hero of the story played by Joey King, has her first encounter with her high school bully nemesis escalate at an insane speed or when the death of her best friend is double telegraphed and then dropped to completion, it’s hard not to be entertained by the script’s ignorance or out-and-out rejection of the rules of basic scripting. Likewise, it’s hard to be amused at the film’s casting of Ryan Philippe, perhaps the prettiest man to ever borrow time on the Hollywood A-list, as Clare’s trash-rummaging father who, once the wishes begin to come true, is also revealed to be a white savior of jazz. But nothing can top the hilarity of Clare’s wealthy uncle rising abruptly from a pool of blood to get an unnecessary cinematic double tap in what is inadvertently the most hilarious one second of film I’ve seen this year or the batshit-crazy ending, which stands out among the most WTF-worthy moments in the history of horror.
Overall: Wish Upon offers a strange predicament. As a fan of movies that fail on a grand scale through earnest misguidance, I can’t suggest missing this movie. Nor do I think that a film this undercooked cares about the feedback. Ultimately, Wish Upon could have been a much better film, but I don’t know that it could have been a worse one. And that’s still something to witness.
Featured Image: Broad Green Pictures/Orion Pictures