Director: John R. Leonetti
Starring: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Josephine Langford, Daniela Barbosa, and Mitchell Slaggert
Be careful what you wish for because it might come true. The concept of wish fulfillment in movies provides an interesting theme to play with. You can go the comedic route and have a young boys wish to be a grown-up granted by a carnival game like in the movie "Big", the fairytale route that makes a wooden marionette into a real boy in Disney's "Pinocchio", or the horror route where an ancient evil returns to make wishes come true like in the film "Wishmaster". The outcome in all these films is what they have most in common, mainly that the things you wish for come at a price. Whether the loss of childhood, the moral aspects of understanding what is right and wrong, or the trickery associated with having wishes come true.
The horror genre has utilized this concept almost as much as fairytales have, taking elements from the Arabic mythology of the "Djinn" or the W. W. Jacobs short story "The Monkey's Paw" as inspiration to turn wish making into something horrifying. "Wish Upon" is the newest genre film to tackle the subject, however instead of a monkey's paw playing the magical object it's a cursed music box.
Clare (Joey King) is a teenager in high school, surviving all the drama of adolescence. Clare has always endured a troubled life, her mother (Elizabeth Rohm) committed suicide in front of her as a child and her life was never the same. Her father (Ryan Phillippe), a former musician, spends his days digging through dumpsters, often right in front of Clare's school. Things change dramatically when Clare's father finds a music box, one that grants the wishes of the owner. Suddenly Clare is wealthy and popular, but her wishes come at a deadly expense.
"Wish Upon" operates in a very standard way, quickly establishing characters and moving them into the focus of the story. In some ways it functions similarly to its counterparts, those "teenagers-in-peril" films from the 90's that all tried to copy what "Scream" successfully achieved. It's unfortunate that it never fully commits to that blueprint or alternatively tries to craft something completely unique and different. Instead the film just lingers somewhere in the middle, throwing some of the style from "Final Destination", a familiar moment from "The Butterfly Effect", and a few callbacks to "Wishmaster" just to keep things familiar.
The cast is a mix of newcomers, lead by Joey King who has had some great turns in other films like "The Conjuring" and "Wish I Was Here". Unfortunately the young cast is hampered with terrible dialogue, like how clueless adults think teenagers today talk, and character motivations that offer unwarranted comedy and lead the characters in telegraphed directions. Ryan Phillippe, who played the role of the "teenager-in-peril" in the 90's, makes an appearance here and isn't provided much opportunity to build his character with any substance, even though there are numerous times where something meaningful could have been developed.
Director John R. Leonetti was the director of photography for "Insidious" and "The Conjuring", you can feel some of the influence from those films during the composition of the the scares here, specifically in the establishment of tension that plays well in one scene involving a garbage disposal. Unfortunately aside from a couple of scenes like this, the film never establishes an identity of its own. We've seen films with a PG-13 rating create some exceptional scares, Mr. Leonetti has worked on many of the recent examples, but "Wish Upon" struggles in this capacity throughout. Not all wishes come true.
1.50 out of 5.00