This horror picture comes from the director of the haunted doll flick Annabelle and involves another inanimate object of terror… a music box. Imagine a teen-centric update on The Monkey’s Paw that tries to add extra cursed wishes to the formula and you get the idea. The results are Wish Upon, which is amusingly goofy in sections and does present a couple of reasonably tense and elaborate death sequences. Yet in the end it doesn’t make the most of a strong concept.
Clare Shannon (Joey King) is something of a social outcast at her high school. Of course, it doesn’t help that she comes from a poor family with dumpster-diving dad Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe), or that she still struggles with her mother’s tragic suicide some twelve years previous. While searching for sellable objects in the garbage, Jonathan finds a unique Chinese music box. He gives it to Clare, who realizes that it grants the owner seven wishes. However, there is a “blood price” that one must pay for every request, resulting in a lot of dead friends, acquaintances and family members.
As mentioned, a couple of the violent ends that characters meet are darkly humorous. Just like in a Final Destination film, we know what’s coming, but it’s all about figuring out how someone will meet their end. There is a lengthy and fairly suspenseful scene involving a neighbor (Sherilyn Fenn) that plays well, as does a cross-cutting sequence that moves between two characters in dangerous situations. This allows the audience to try and decipher which one will be dispatched. Still, they’re also completely ridiculous bits; I have no idea why one particular character is so darned determined to pull a single lug-nut out from under a vehicle. However, if people did the right thing in these situations, there wouldn’t be a movie.
The kids are amiable enough, but not particularly well written. There’s the school “mean girl” and her friends; she is written in a one-note manner and played as just about the most horrible person in the entire universe. They are also given some laughable lines and some of the reactions to disturbing events earn unintended chuckles. Perhaps more importantly, while the violent moments are appropriately detailed, one would have hoped for a bit more irony or an extra element that would tie them in with a previous event or character trait. One or two do that, but most play out in a completely random manner.
The most disappointing thing here is that our heroine isn’t given nearly enough to do. This is the type of story that would have benefited from a lead who turns devious or paranoid much sooner, willing to go to any extreme to get her deepest desires regardless of the price it costs. Instead, Clare spends five of her seven wishes asking for rather typical and mundane things (wealth, popularity, a less embarrassing parent) before she must truly come to grips with sinister events and react to the consequences.
Overall, Wish Upon has a couple of reasonable sequences, but never raises itself to the level of being particularly shocking, or even memorable. If anything, it feels like a bit of a knock-off of the types of recent features mentioned previously. So if I could have had a wish granted, it would have been that the producers had pushed the concept further and added some more effective twists and turns before starting production.