Wish Upon takes a tiresomely familiar horror movie trope and does pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to do. The result is a movie that verges between gruesome death scenes that rely heavily on edits to avoid an ‘R’ rating and elements that are so wrong headed or jaw droppingly silly that even a genie in a bottle couldn’t fix the picture.
The film opens with a young girl witnessing her mother’s suicide and, some years later, suffering as an outcast at her high school. Clare (Joey King) does pretty much everything that heroines of these types of films tend to do – swoons over the hunky athlete, sneers at the snobby girls who go out of their way to mistreat her and pals around with two girls who act as the kooky sidekicks and are called upon for the occasional punchline.
Oh yeah, there’s also Clare’s father – Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe) – who, for some unexplainable reason, is obsessed with dumpster diving (and in front of his daughter’s school no less, while all of the students are congregated outside) and, on occasion, plays saxophone solos in his living room that sound like the missing tracks from a 1980s Kenny G. record.
Clare discovers a music box with Chinese letters on it – so, naturally, she finds the one Asian guy in her class, who – of course – is friends with a tattooed Asian woman whose friend – naturally – is an expert in such things. If the title The Chinese Connection hadn’t already been taken, this film might have qualified. They tell her to avoid the box as it appears to be haunted by a demon who grants wishes or some such thing.
Of course, Clare ignores them and proceeds to become an increasingly unlikable lead character – although, it would seem that we are supposed to sympathize with her – who continues to make demands of the music box, regardless of the fact that several people close to her have seemingly died as a result.
To make matters worse, the characters are constantly forced to regurgitate near-absurdist dialogue – for example, a scene during which a boy tells Clare, whom he’s trying to seduce, “I just wanted to think of something dope to say before I kiss you.” Also, Clare and her pals tend to refer to each other by names that sound better suited to the 1990s.
Wish Upon follows the well trodden path that you’d expect from this type of teen thriller, right down to the final shot. It’s not particularly scary, its “villain” is woefully vague (some of the best horror movies include evil presences that lack an explanation, thereby making them more frightening, whereas this one provides a backstory regarding a ghost and then pretty much drops it) and many of the characters are wooden caricatures. If there’s anything to recommend in the film, it’s watching Phillippe go to town on those smooth jazz solos and, during one particular sequence, dodge a deadly flying tire. Such are the joys of Wish Upon.