Generally, I have nothing against film ratings. In fact, too much seems to be made of them in today’s discussions on movies. A PG-13 rating isn’t always a bad omen. Lots of great films are rated PG-13. In the case of horror, it’s usually not a good sign. Take The Bye Bye Man and Rings for example just from this year. It’s a business decision more than anything. Lower ratings mean more eyeballs on the film. However, horror is one of the few genres that suffers from being limited on going that extra mile. Wish Upon maybe could’ve benefitted from exploring some darker themes, but ultimately, that’s not quite what makes the film tedious. The latest from director John Leonetti (Annabelle) never rises above the cliches of a generic PG-13 horror entry.
Wish Upon follows Clare (Joey King) who is a high school outsider with a couple of friends who are often times deplorable characters. She discovers a music box that has the power to grant wishes. But, making those wishes comes with a price. The movie also features Ryan Phillippe as Clare’s hoarder-ish dad Jonathon.
The movie attempts to explore some deeper themes regarding addiction, bullying and vanity. Clare’s first wishes are what any teenage girl would wish for (I don’t profess to be an expert on the teenage girls mind); money, popularity and the love of the most popular guy in school. All of that is fine, and some of the time, Leonetti does a nice job depicting the increasingly harsh nature of today’s high schools. Where it doesn’t work, is the execution of applying those themes to the larger picture. If Clare knows the stakes of making a wish, why does she keep doing it? Its a potentially fascinating character study on human nature that Leonetti chooses to ignore. Moreover, because Leonetti and screenwriter Barbara Marshall fail to explore the ideas they create, the movie ultimately becomes a boring journey just to get to the end we know is coming.
All of the characters in the movie are so poorly written, it’s hard to care about any of them. There is nothing that bothers me more in a movie than increasingly bad decisions being made by characters. Clare is the main culprit. She wishes for more and more things and turns a blind eye to the consequences. Every action and reaction that follows is nothing more than familiar, formulaic tropes. Joey King seemingly tries to give it her all as Clare, but her performance is atrocious, as are most in the film. Chief among them, is Syndey Park’s role of Clare’s sociopathic friend Meredith. She is a truly despicable character. Her other close friend, June (Stranger Things’ Shannon Purser) is on the other end of that spectrum, albeit just as poorly written. The only character who has any sense in the film is Clare’s guy friend Ryan.
Of course there are dreadful jump scares, predictable deaths and painfully contrived plot points. Nothing in Wish Upon feels authentic. Rather, Leonetti takes us through one cringeworthy scene to the next with no semblance that any thought was put into the story. The movie doesn’t even achieve so bad it’s good status nor does it successfully work as satire. Although, I’m fairly positive that satire is not what this movie was aiming for.
But, I digress, what did we really expect from the director who brought us Mortal Kombat: Annihilation? Wish Upon will be one of those films I forget about in a month until I revisit it to compile my worst of the year list. This is a movie that wasn’t made for me. I’ve written fairly extensively about my indifference for horror as a genre. Wish Upon will likely make it’s money for a couple of weeks before disappearing until I make my worst of the year list in December. It is a total failure in nearly every aspect of filmmaking.