It takes a supreme amount of confidence for a movie studio to release a horror film in the middle of summer, a season typically reserved for big-budget blockbusters, so it was surprising when distributors Broad Green Pictures and Orion Pictures scheduled the “be careful what you wish for” thriller Wish Upon for a release on July 14th. Facing stiff competition from franchise juggernaut War for the Planet of the Apes and the wide release of indie hit The Big Sick, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for Wish Upon to make a killing at the box office. Still, with a $12 million production budget, it shouldn’t have much trouble turning a slight profit. It is a sufficiently entertaining film that suffers from a rushed second half that has been butchered in the editing room.
Following the suicide of her mother, Clare (Joey King, The Conjuring) is attempting to live a normal life while her father (Ryan Phillippe, Cruel Intentions, I Know What You Did Last Summer) dumpster-dives to keep them afloat. While out one day, he comes across a mysterious Chinese music box and gives it to Clare as an early birthday present. The box has an inscription that states it will grant the owner seven wishes, and Clare begins to use them for personal gain, much to the chagrin of her friends Meredith (Sydney Park, stealing every scene she is in) and June (Shannon Purser, Barb from Stranger Things). What Clare doesn’t realize is that every wish she makes leads to the unfortunate death of someone close to her. As Clare finds the urge to wish harder and harder to resist, she must also work with her friends to put an end to the music box’s madness.
The marketing for Wish Upon hasn’t done much to raise audience expectations for the film, and that may be for the best, especially considering the biggest films to director John R. Leonetti’s name are Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and Annabelle. You’d be surprised to know that Wish Upon actually gets off to a pretty solid start. While by no means brilliant, the first half of the film is filled with likable characters, solid acting and a script that pokes fun at itself at all the right moments. It’s an entertaining blend of Wishmaster and Final Destination that plays like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. This is a fun film for quite a while, which makes up for the pedestrian script.
The performances are all strong, which is better than you would usually expect from this type of film. 17-year-old Joey King does most of the grunt work, carrying the film for the majority of its runtime. A far cry from the little girl we all saw in The Conjuring four years ago, King conveys the proper amount of emotional range as Clare as she transitions from a shy innocent girl to a wish-addicted monster, even if Barbara Marshall’s (Viral) script doesn’t provide much believable motivation for her willingness to let people die. King does what she can to make it believable though, making for a compelling lead performance from the actress. Phillippe is serviceable but isn’t given much to do as Clare’s father other than fish around dumpsters and play the saxophone which, according to the film, makes him cool. Supporting turns from Ki Hong Lee (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) are fine, but the true breakout of the film is Park. She brings an energy to the film that is unmatched by anyone else. Her role would normally be written off as the comic relief had an actress of lesser talents been cast in the role, but Park is clearly having a blast here. She’s a treat to watch.
Unfortunately, around the midway point of the film (or, if we’re being generous, the start of the third act), the film starts to fall apart. Wish Upon is edited to death under the cut-happy hands of Peck Prior. Subplots involving a psychotic love interest for Clare and Clare’s addiction to wishes are brought up only to be hastily resolved or forgotten altogether. It’s also clear that the film was shot with the intention of getting an R rating, as nearly all of the death scenes are edited down to quick cuts and all of the blood is darkened to a near-black color. Don’t be surprised if an unrated cut of Wish Upon is released on Blu-Ray with a good 15-20 minutes added. There’s probably a lot more of Wish Upon out there somewhere.
PG-13 rating aside, the deaths are wonderfully gruesome. The build-up to each one is reminiscent of the deaths in the Final Destination films. A few of them prove to be rather suspenseful too, with a set piece involving a flat tire and an elevator being a highlight. Leonetti imbues the film with plenty of gallows humor so that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. That being said, he does let some unintentional humor slip past, as one moment in the final seconds of the film caused audience at my screening to laugh uncontrollably.
Wish Upon is just entertaining enough to merit a recommendation. It won’t win any awards, but you could do a lot worse at the theaters this summer (Transformers is still out, after all). It’s a shame that all of the good will that the film builds up during its first 45 minutes or so is squandered by a rushed and choppily edited final half. It could have easily been a 3/5 but ends up being a 2.5/5. Rent it.