Sunday, 10 December 2017

Wish Upon (2017) - Movie Review
The plot: High schooler Clare (Joey King) is given a music box by her father Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe), who found it while dumpster-diving. Clare manages to translate enough of the text written on it to learn that it is no ordinary music box: It has the ability to grant a person seven wishes. As she uses this new gift to improve her life conditions, it seems that the price for her wishes is far greater than she realises, and it could spell doom for everyone she holds dear.

For a character who is supposed to get progressively drunker with power, King has way too nice a demeanour on-screen for that to really click. Rather than getting across how much the actions are weighing down on her, she always looks more like she’s as bored with what’s going on as we are. Sydney Park and Shannon Purser as her best friends Meredith and June respectively are supposed to be the outsiders that everyone picks on same as Clare, but with how callous they come across, they end up being more like Mean Girls than the actual Mean Girl here with Josephine Langford as Darcie. Ryan Phillippe as Clare’s dad looks dumbstruck in literally every scene he’s in, as if the fact that he’s playing a literal dumpster diver keeps dawning on him over and over again while making a mental note to fire his agent.

Elisabeth Röhm as Clare’s mother has suicide as her only character trait, so you can imagine how fucking well that turns out, Victor Sutton as Clare’s uncle represents the only obvious plot twist that the film doesn’t take as there’s no way in Hell that this guy is not playing Satan, and Jerry O’Connell shows up in an uncredited role as one of the box’s former owners. When you have a credited filmography that includes Kangaroo Jack and Fat Slags, and this is where you go unlisted, there’s something wrong. Also, Ki Hong Lee as Clare’s love interest Ryan is the single best thing to see here, both because he gives a decent performance and also because his is the only character with a head on their shoulders.

Is there a single way that this film wouldn’t be dead on arrival? I mean, stories about making wishes and the unseen consequences involved are so old hat that it takes a lot of effort to make them seem worthwhile. Effort that is entirely missing from this production, and it all starts with the characters. We’re in proper Eli Roth mode here with the majority of the characters feeling like instant cannon fodder, aside from Ryan who actually sees the awful going on around him as what it is. And yet, it doesn’t even get that right; I don’t know how you mess up a writing style that has never truly worked in the first place, but apparently writer Barbara Marshall figured out a way. Not only do we have to deal with hateful characters, they keep being presented as if they are the lesser evil to the likes of Darcie… except they really aren’t.
For a start, when Clare’s first wish comes true, their reactions are less horrified and more “Ha! Bitch got what she deserves for being a mild inconvenience!” For another, as Clare keeps making wishes, we never get the sense that she feels guilt for any of this, and it’s only through the intervention of the film’s real hero Ryan that she finally gets a grasp on what she’s done. And for a third, as stated above, the acting isn’t nearly strong enough to give the sense of a moral grey area that might have helped with the questionable actions shown.

So, we’re stuck with people who are either too plain or too heinous for the audience to really care about. Surely, seeing the gruesome wishes on-screen can pick up the slack, right? Not even close, and this goes back to the problem of how well-trodden this ground is. Like, it is rather astounding how much of this film copy-and-pastes from so many other variations of this same story.

Let’s go through a quick checklist: 

Bullied kid wishes to be the most popular kid in the school? Check.
Said wish results in her own friends ditching her because she’s ‘not one of them’ anymore? Check. 
Love-struck teen wishes for their crush to fall madly in love with them? Check.
Said wish results in the crush becoming an obsessive stalker? Check.
The wish plot device taking requests literally, like when Clare wants someone to “rot”? Check.

And the list goes on in that fashion. We even get an attempt at “I wish that none of this ever happened”; I seriously doubt that there is a single story cliché that this film doesn’t use, and because of that, the near-constant feeling of déjà vu makes buying into what is shown to be near-impossible.

And it still gets worse from there. The trend of writing intentionally hateful characters in horror films, aside from being dead easy, is usually done so that their inevitable deaths will be even more cathartic. I know I’m making a habit of writing this in this review but, once again, it can’t even do that right. The pacing surrounding the deaths is painfully one-note: Wish is made, box opens and plays that stupid music, person dies, the box closes; repeat until you reach the end credits. No variation, no spice, and only one real instance of the film trying to play clever with how it knows that we know how this is going to turn out. It basically suffers from the same problem as the Final Destination films (as well as their own string of copycats): Characters are going to die, we know that characters are going to die, and so we spend most of the film just waiting for when the death happens. No real tension to speak of, just a gorier version of The Waiting Game.
To make matters worse, and I’m kind of horrified that we’re still not done yet, the in-universe rules concerning the box aren’t even consistent. It legitimately gets to the point where a death happens, music box playing and everything, when a new wish hasn’t even been made. Oh, and a bunch of wishes get negated at some point for no adequately explained reason. It copies all of the crap but leaves behind the bits that allow the story to make sense; simply baffling.

All in all… how in the hell do you screw up this story this badly? The acting is bland, the scares are non-existent, the pacing is monotonous as hell, none of the ideas connected to making wishes are original, and the writing takes every wrong turn and yet somehow fails to make a single right turn even by accident. I decided to check this one out after seeing it already pop up in Worst Of 2017 lists, and I was in no way disappointed. Seriously, when you’re making my published story involving wishes look good by comparison, you have truly fucked up.

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