Monday, March 12, 2018

When You Wish Upon an Evil Chinese Music Box

If Kazaam has taught one thing, it's that Shaquille O'Neal always had bigger career potential as a product spokesman than film actor. 

If it taught us one more, it's that magical wish granters always have a price.

Quick Plot: Teenage Clare hasn't exactly had a charmed life. As a little girl, she witnessed her mother (Law & Order's favorite surprise lesbian Elisabeth Rohm) commit suicide. Dad Ryan Phillippe (yes, we're at the point in time where Ryan Phillippe is dad to a teenager and yes, that makes me feel old) is now an out-of-work saxophonist who makes some cash off his dumpster diving findings. 

Also, she's like, super not popular.

Life takes an upturn when Clare's dad brings home a mysterious box from a cemetery garbage pile. The ancient Chinese writing seems to suggest it grants wishes, leading Clare to give it a go, wishing her high school nemesis "rots." Cue the mysterious skin disease. In a completely unrelated turn of evens, Clare's beloved golden retriever mysteriously dies.

It takes a shocking number of similar granted wish/dead pal pairings before Clare can admit the obvious: the haunted box will grant her seven wishes, but each one must be paid for with the violent death of someone close. With the benefits of Clare's wishes growing bigger each time, can she stop herself from, you know, continuing to murder her friends and family?

Directed by the better-than-everyone-says-it-is Annabelle and way-worse-than-you-know-even-though-you-might-not-know-it-existed The Butterfly Effect 2's John R. Leonetti, Wish Upon is kind of a delight. A good chunk of the credit probably goes to Barbara Marshall, whose script is equally in tune to teenagers as her previous credit, Viral.

Played with a perfectly immature intensity by Joey King, Clare is a selfish, impulsive young woman who makes for a fantastically complicated protagonist. It's easy to judge her (admittedly very irresponsible and immoral) actions, but the film does a successful job of putting us into her mindset. As the poor, motherless artist bullied by the rich pretty kids, we understand why she'd be so easily seduced by something that can make her dreams come true. It's almost like a horror version of Lady Bird.

Wish Upon isn't a modern classic, but it's a solid, well-paced and made little horror movie that's simply much better than it could have been. The entire cast brings something interesting, from veterans like Phillippe and an ill-fated Sherilyn Fenn to the diverse, realistic teenagers (which includes Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's rising star Ki Hong Lee, Stranger Things' own Barb, Shannon Purser, and the incredibly charismatic Sydney Park). 

High Points
EVERYONE, this movie has a Most Popular Girl montage. A MOST POPULAR GIRL MONTAGE I SAID

Low Points
The Final Destination-ing of the death scenes is fun at first, but by the fourth case of teasing out what random contraption is going to slay which character, it feels a little tired

Lessons Learned
The price of quality ancient Chinese translation is a quality batch of wontons

When it comes to making wishes through evil box genies, use your adjectives wisely


Wish Upon is streaming on Amazon Prime and makes a great way to enjoy 90 minutes of your life. You probably won't think much about it after the fact, but it's perfectly engaging during its run. 

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