FILM REVIEW – WISH UPON. With Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Sydney Park, Sherilyn Fenn. Written by Barbara Marshall. Directed by John R. Leonetti. Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language. 90 minutes.
Sandwiched between classics of horror and those entries that are so unutterably stupid you can’t believe you got suckered into watching it are movies like WISH UPON. It has enough going for it in terms of plot and casting to keep you engaged, so that even if you come out of the theater saying you’d never watch it again, you don’t feel your time has been ill-spent.
Loosely based on the classic horror tale “The Monkey’s Paw,” “Wish Upon” opens with a disturbing prologue in which a young girl witnesses her mother’s suicide. Flashforward a dozen years later and Clare (Joey King) is a high school misfit. She has her friends, but the “cool kids” taunt her, particularly since her father (Ryan Phillipe) seems to be earning a living salvaging trash.
One day Dad discovers what turns out to be a Chinese wishing bowl which he gives to Clare. It offers her seven wishes but, unknown to her, a life will be taken for each wish granted. The early part of the film sets up the premise as Clare gets revenge on the girl who has been tormenting her, becomes popular, and inherits wealth. However as she discovers the price that others are paying for her good fortune, a moral dilemma arises.
The script by Barbara Marshall makes good use of high school dynamics, from the ever-present smartphones to the caste system among adolescents. The horror moments are supremely creepy but not gory, so we get glimpses of the “blood price” her wishes require, but not long shots of exposed entrails. Much of the horror comes from the anticipation of what we know, or suspect, is coming. Marshall and director John R. Leonetti are clever enough to know when to give in to our fears and when to set us up and then pull the rug out from underneath.
King is quite good as the conflicted teen, and the young cast offers able support. Ki Hong Lee as a classmate who can get her help to translate the “ancient Chinese” on the bowl works well as a potential romatnic interest, and Sydney Park and Shannon Purser score as Clare’s best friends. The adult actors, including Phillipe as her father, Kevin Hanchard as his trash-picking partner, and Sherilyn Fenn as a sympathetic neighbor, bring some depth to what might otherwise be cardboard roles.
“Wish Upon” is not a game-changer. It will soon be just another horror movie available at Redbox outlets and in Netflix queues. Yet in a brisk 90 minutes it provides its audiences with a few shudders at the real horror show–high school–and makes us wonder what we might be willing to risk if we could (or could have) reshaped it to our liking.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.