It’s a pretty good idea for a horror movie, actually: An unhappy teen (Joey King’s Clare) finds a magical box that grants her any wish she wants — but at the cost of one of her loved one’s life apiece. But “Wish Upon” is not even a fun-bad horror movie. It’s lame — sloppily written (despite once being on the coveted Blacklist of clever unproduced scripts), slackly directed, in some cases incompetently acted. (King is good, though — far more personable than we’re used to in dumb horror numbers.) It’s also very stupid. Here are its most brain-drained moments:
Clare is really, really, really slow to realize what’s up
She seems like a smart girl. She’s artistic. She rides a bike. She’s taking Mandarin (more on that in a second). She has cool, smart friends. But Clare doesn’t realize at first — or even at second, or even at third — that each wish results in the supernatural, “Final Destination”-style death of someone she knows. She seems to sort of piece it together early on: After she wishes one of her bullies would “rot” and the girl’s skin turns cadaverous, she makes a face that suggests she’s just put two and two together…and then she keeps on doing it. It’s revealed later on that the box has a way of turning those who use it mad and obsessive. But that seems like a screenwriterly cheat added in later to explain our hero’s rank stupidity and crappiness.
A loved one dies, then Clare goes on a fun shopping spree
One of the first victims is Clare’s uncle, who is estranged from her and her father but is someone Clare has at least attempted to keep in touch with. That may have partially been due to this: he was fabulously wealthy, while she and her father (Ryan Phillippe) live in a shithole. After his death, Clare wishes that she inherited his entire wealth. Which she does, but there’s no moment where she pauses to reflect on the grotesque passing of a close relative. Instead we head straight into a fun montage of her going on a shopping spree: trying on clothes, driving her new car, acting like her uncle hadn’t been brutally murdered by supernatural forces. This isn’t the last movie that needed an empty-headed shopping spree montage, but it’s down there.
As you may know or have at least noticed, Hollywood has been pandering to Chinese audiences over the last few years. You know when an Asian actor you’ve never seen has a key supporting role? That’s because Hollywood realized that China loves American movies — i.e., spends gobs of money on them — more than Americans do. You wouldn’t expect a low-grade, low-budget horror film to succumb to this trend. And yet even “Wish Upon” has gratuitous stuff about Clare taking Mandarin at school (apparently a thing in American high schools, but still) and a romantic subplot involving a fellow Chinese-American student, Ryan (Hi Kong Lee). Then again, that didn’t cause the filmmakers to tone down the very ’80s “orientalism” of the evil magic box itself, which is Chinese and therefore apparently even scarier and Other.
Ryan Phillippe, smooth jazz saxophonist
This is our favorite part of the movie. At one point, Clare — annoyed by her grieving widow of a father, particularly his love for dumpster diving — wishes he’d get his shit together. She’s not specific, but for some reason the box interprets this as him cleaning up, picking back up the sax and tooting out blood-curdling smooth jazz like he was Kenny G. And so we get the terrifying sight of Ryan Phillippe purring into a sax while Clare’s high school friends get all hot and bothered. Because what’s sexier to the kids these days than a 40-something alum of “Cruel Intentions” doing smooth jazz?
Don’t give the box to someone who may wind up using it himself
This is a major spoiler about the end, so turn back now if you’d like. At the end, Clare thinks she’s beat the box by wishing she’d return to right before she got the box. Then she can destroy it or bury it or whatever. But she doesn’t do that. For some reason, she goes to Ryan and asks him to bury it for her. Then she’s “mysteriously” hit by a car and dies, thus closing the circle. But isn’t there a good chance Ryan would use the box himself, therefore creating his own cycle of horror? Is she even thinking? Or is she just doing the screenwriter’s wishes and setting up a sequel we hope won’t happen? The mind reels.