By Casey Campbell
A magic box grants a young girl seven wishes, and people start dying. This brazenly original concept drives last years most consistently hilarious comedy disguised as a PG-13 Final Destination horror rip-off, in Wish Upon. It was so wildly enjoyable because not a single element worked the way it was supposed to, and its comedic timing was (accidentally) perfect.
Wish Upon was directed by John R. Leonetti, the cinematographer that shot some of James Wann’s best films (Insidious, The Conjuring). Having watched Leonetti’s latest attempt at directing (he also directed the lackluster Conjuring spin-off Annabelle), it seems as if he took Wann’s tremendous style and attempted to do everything Wann wouldn’t do. There wasn’t a scary element in the whole film, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone who watches recent mainstream horror attempts (Paranormal Activity and Ouija being in the forefront of my mind).
The film opens with a child named Clare finding her mother hanging herself in the attic, and cuts ahead twelve years. Clare, now a teenager played by Joey King, still wonders what made her mother kill herself, while also dealing with every cliché that a story set in a high school could offer. She deals with bullies, has a crush on a guy who doesn’t know she exists, and her dad is an embarrassment. It’s all very fresh, and I’m sure you won’t be able to guess what happens with each of these story threads.
In a genuinely surprising turn, her father is played by the ever boyish Ryan Phillippe, and his main occupation is dumpster diving. That’s right, he digs through trash to find any assortment of knick-knacks and household necessities as a means to survive. Good thing too, because he stumbles upon the magic box which propels the plot. He gives it to Clare, because I guess he didn’t mind offering up the trash box to his daughter as a birthday gift. Thanks, Dad!
The box touts some Chinese markings, as well as a disclaimer that it can grant seven wishes. She laughs, but then remembers her bully from earlier in the day (a girl who tried to hit her with an SUV, bullies, am I right?) and very dramatically makes a wish.
“I wish that [she] would just, like, go rot!” our protagonist proclaims.
And it works! The bully girl wakes up with a nasty case of rot from head to dilapidated toe, and it looks admittedly gnarly. Word spreads through school with the speed of the girl’s rot, and Clare’s friends celebrate the good news. She can’t enjoy the knowledge of a girls hospitalization for long, as Clare finds her dog, freshly dead, under her deck. How’d the dog die? Who knows. All it shows is a laceration along the dogs stomach, and some hungry rats surrounding the carcass. Spooky!
At this point, Clare understands the power she holds, yet wishes for a boy to fall “madly in love with her.” See how that could go poorly for her? Word choice is key, Clare. Suffice to say, the guy goes nuts – but hey, at least someone loves her. This wish spurs on another death. This time, her estranged uncle slips in the tub and slams his head on the porcelain. He doesn’t die instantly though. He sputters back into consciousness only to slam his forehead against the faucet, finishing him off. The death of an old man slipping in a tub could have been effective, if not for the slapstick nature of the scene. Yes, I did laugh when this old man slipped and died.
That’s basically how the film continues. She makes a dumbass wish, and then someone who she’s vaguely familiar with loses their life. The ghost (I’m presuming some supernatural spirit is behind all of this bloodshed) doesn’t make it clear why it kills its victims. First the dog, then the uncle, then her neighbor dies because she wishes for her uncle’s inheritance.
While the inheritance wish was funny because it led to a sequence that followed Clare and her friends (a genuinely fun Sydney Park, and BARB from Stranger Things, Shannon Purser) on a montage of shopping, her next wish was even better. She doesn’t appreciate that people don’t like her (she’s generally unlikable) and she wishes to be popular. First of all, that’s fucking dreadful. More so, the writer has either never heard a teenager speak, or is just ill-equipped to write dialogue (or both).
But before the popularity wish kicks in, she has to make another laughably idiotic wish. This time, she wastes away the cure for cancer to make her father “less embarrassing.” In this films logic, Phillippe becomes LESS embarrassing by playing the saxophone in front of her friends. One friend concedes that Clare’s father is hot. Mind you, this is the same film about a magic box that kills dogs, old people, and friendly neighbors. The horror.
Before the end, Clare ends up killing her more charismatic and better acted friend, as well as wish her dead mother back to life. The mother wish lacked foresight, and her father has his head cut off with a chainsaw. I think. It was offscreen, but it was Clare’s fault nonetheless.
Clare goes back to the box to make another wish. The same box that killed her dad. And her mom. And her neighbor, uncle, dog, best friend, etc. She wishes to go back to the day her father gave her the box, to undo everything she had wished for. It works! She wakes up and uses her keen intellect to infiltrate her fathers trash digging gig to find the box before he does! Then she goes to school and gives it to her friend for him to dispose of (I didn’t mention him earlier, but he helps Clare translate the box in the film – trust me, it’s unimportant). Why couldn’t she have done away with the box herself, you may ask? Because she has to get comically hit by an SUV and thrown twelve feet through the air onto another car.
Thus ends the comically tragic tale of Clare and her poorly written affair with the magic music box.
All in all, Wish Upon is fantastic. It’s so stupid that it made me consistently laugh, more so than any comedy I saw all year. Sorry The Big Sick, looks like Wish Upon takes the cake for must see comedy of 2017.
Buy here: Wish Upon [Blu-ray]