CREDIT: Steve Wilkie / Broad Green Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Elisabeth Röhm, Ki Hong Lee, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Kevin Hanchard, Sherilyn Finn

Director: John R. Leonetti

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Tableaux of Death

Release Date: July 14, 2017

“Be careful what you wish for,” yada yada yada, just state your message and move on – we’re here for the blood! Actually though, discerning horror viewers, like all film buffs, are really here for the imagination. Sure, plenty of us have reveled in excessive gore from time to time, but what we really want is a new innovation for toying with our deepest fears. Wish Upon’s premise offers little groundbreaking, but it is simple enough that there is plenty of room for surprising variation. For the majority of its running time, that potential is unrealized, but a breathless finale hints at what could have been and is nearly intense to salvage the whole endeavor.

Clare Shannon (the already-prolific-at-17 Joey King) is not too different from most teenagers, insofar as she wishes she were rich and popular, that the cute boy would fall in love with her, and that her dad (Ryan Phillippe) would stop being SOOO embarrassing. But unlike most teenagers, her dad dumpster dives for valuables, and she is the lead in a horror movie, thus she finds herself in position of an ancient Chinese music box. When she declares whatever she desires in the presence of the box, her wish automatically comes true – bing, bang, boom, no questions asked! Of course, there is a catch: each wish granted is paid for with the death of a loved one. All of Clare’s wishes are selfish, so there is a moral reckoning at play here. But when one of her friends asks her why she does not wish for, say, world peace, it begs the question: would such a noble request also be balanced out with a killing? There is no indication that the box would make any distinctions between wishes in terms of its price.

Wish Upon unfortunately never gets around to exploring these philosophical conundrums. Instead, it spins its wheels, as Clare refuses to accept the obviousness of what is going on. Skepticism about the supernatural is understandable, as horror movie characters usually do not realize that they are in a horror movie. But at a certain point, there is no logical or the film refusing to move forward, it settles into a routine of neo-Valley Girl high school slice of life interspersed with killing in the key of Final Destination-lite (i.e., simple Rube Goldberg, minor tension).

That is a shame, because there are plenty of disturbing, intense, or just plain unusual directions that this premise could go in. And in its last act, Wish Upon suddenly finds the right inspiration to meet that potential. The thing is, Clare is not just like any other teenager, as made clear in a ten-years-earlier prologue in which her mom (Elisabeth Röhm) commits suicide Magically transporting to some ideal life is tempting, and it may feel perfect at first, but there is bound to be some nagging feeling that will not go away about how wrong this impossible wish fulfillment is. You do not need a vengeful spirit to make that clear, but as horror metaphors go, it’s a handy one. Playing around with it for an hour and a half could be quite the unsettling trip; Wish Upon gives us just a taste.

Wish Upon is Recommended If You Like: Means Girls crossed with The Grudge, the Final Destination series

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Smegmas