Have you noticed that in most literature and film, when given the chance to make any wish, people will make the wrong one? Like a Faustian encounter with the Devil, when all our desires are on the cusp of reality, we wish for something that potentially dooms us. “Wishing Stairs” is no different, though in this Korean film there exists a set of stairs—crooked, cement, threatening—that grants the wishes of those who climb them, and those it pities.
Conveniently located outside of an all-girls’ school, “Wishing Stairs” concerns the friendships of So-hee, a talented, beautiful ballet star, and her best friend, Jin-sung, existing somewhat in the shadows of So-hee. Things start out idyllic between the two, as they skip practice to attend a concert, have late-night makeovers and pledge their love for one another. Of course, pressure and jealousy mount between So-hee and Jin-sung as they compete for the role of Gisele in an upcoming performance that guarantees a scholarship to a prestigious Russian dance academy.
In the midst of these schoolgirls’ turmoil, be it through the fear of losing a friend, the fear of losing a competition, or the hope of losing pounds, everyone seems to turn to the Wishing Stairs. Note to self: never wish upon a supposedly spiritual, potentially demonic set of stairs that has a human face and a secret, 29th step revealed only to the faithful. The stairs’ power twists the wishes into a dark reality, steeped with blood and death. And this is what, nearly two-thirds through the film, turns this otherwise domestic drama into a horror film.
But is it worth the wait? Though one man’s poor pacing is another’s slow burn, for many the answer will be “no.” The final payoff is a series of scares that borrows from both Western and Asian horror convention, some effective, many derivative. Horror fans may bemoan the low body count, but it’s worth noting the performances of the actresses are quite emotional. Sometimes it’s difficult to find young performers who can convincingly display one feeling at a time, and here, we have two leads that can convey many at once. This film runs the gamut of friendship, betrayal, anger, jealousy, hope and regret, not parceled out individually, but in an honest portrayal of complex feelings. In this aspect the movie shines, but even with an ending that avoids the predictable, it leaves one wishing for more.
(Note: this review is of an English-subtitled Asian release of “Wishing Stairs”; the US version may vary.)