Wish Upon is a cautionary tale of sorts centering on young Clare Shannon (played by The Conjuring’s Joey King) an average, outcast teenager complete with a beautiful bully, a working-class life, and a strained relationship with her father (Ryan Philippe, Cruel Intentions). Clare just wants to be a regular girl, complete with a beautiful boyfriend and successful family, and all her dreams seemingly come true when her father finds a mysterious Chinese box while digging through neighborhood trash. After discovering that the box can grant wishes and give Clare whatever she wants, her life is finally what she has always imagined it could be, but, naturally, there are terrible, unknowable consequences afoot.
Wish Upon is basically a modern retelling of the infamous short story, The Monkey’s Paw in which a family is bequeathed a mummified monkey’s paw from a stranger and told it will give them three wishes. However, the family does not think their wishes through and they are faced with horrors and tragedies because of their greed. The story, while horrifying, teaches a valuable lesson in that life isn’t meant to be as easy as making a wish and that enormous gains in a small period have dire consequences. This is all to say that, although Wish Upon does have unique characteristics, it does not really bring anything new plot-wise to the table.
There are a variety of convenient plot contrivances throughout Wish Upon. For example, in the first 20 minutes of the film, while the audience gets the notion that Clare and her father are working class folk and have struggled for what they have, the movie must jam other conflicts into it so the ball can get rolling for the wish making. Elsewhere, Clare’s bully is introduced and is confirmed to be a complete bitch because she just is. There really isn’t any presented conflict or rationale or even hardcore bullying, just the fact that this character is bad so as viewers we shouldn’t like her or feel bad for her. Unfortunately, while I disliked the bully character, the fact that her interactions with Clare were solely for showing that she was a terrible person made it forced and superficial.
Other instances include the father conveniently digging through trash across the street from the school where Clare can see him, so she confronts him and tells him how embarrassed she is. As Wish Upon develops it becomes obvious that the father is hoarding because of his grief, but instead of addressing this as an interesting characteristic, the father’s sole purpose is to be embarrassing to Clare. Characterizations like this throughout the film cheapen Clare’s interactions with the other people and make them seem expendable so anything tragic is less impactful.
Another aspect of Wish Upon that’s a little difficult to swallow is the fact that Clare really doesn’t have the moral high ground in the film. While yes, she is bullied and has witnessed a tragedy and is, well, poor, Clare doesn’t use her wishes to better anyone but herself. You can make the argument that her wishes are a result of an angsty teenager and she didn’t even think that they would be granted, but regardless they show her headspace and rationale which are barely better than her supposed bully.
For instance, at one point Clare and her father come into money and instead of fixing their run-down house or helping their friends, Clare’s father gives her a credit card to spend as she pleases. She then hurries to the mall and takes selfies with her friends to match the posts of their bullies. This is understandable in wanting to have more, but as a viewer I started to not feel any empathy for her at this point and anything that happened to her subsequently was less impactful as a result.
While I have some major complaints about the film, there are two aspects that Wish Upon gets right. First, there is a lot of diversity and widespread acceptance of different cultures, races, and sexual orientations present throughout. This may seem trivial, but breaking tropes of the typical teenage archetypes deserves appreciation. The second thing that Wish Upon hits for me was the deaths in this film, which are brutal. The camera does not turn away to shield your virgin eyes from some gruesome death, either, which is nice in a mainstream movie. This is also majorly appreciated since Wish Upon is only rated PG-13, so the director could have easily copped out of showing terrible ways to die.
Overall, if you are a diehard horror fan or are looking to get your pants scared off, Wish Upon is not for you. Honestly, just read The Monkey’s Paw, shiver, and call it a night. But, if you just want to have a fun movie night or want to introduce teenagers new to horror to something different but not too traumatizing, this is a pretty safe bet.
Wish Upon is now in theaters.
WICKED RATING 4/10
Director(s): John R. Leonetti
Writer(s): Barbara Marshall
Stars: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee
Studio/ Production Co: Broad Green Pictures, Busted Shark Productions
Release date: July 14, 2017
Length: 90 min