Here’s a fun fact about me (not that you asked) I hate mannequins or dolls. They creep me out. Some people have Pennywise, others have Freddy; not me. Just a simple creepy doll or mannequin is enough to leave me un-nerved. So you can imagine my distrust when I sat down to watch the next film from John R. Leonetti, the director of 2014’s Conjuring spin-off and all round porcelain doll creep fest, “Annabelle”.
Luckily for me, “Wish Upon” instead delivered a fun and enjoyable (loose) update on the classic W. W. Jacob’s short story “The Monkey’s Paw” that, despite it’s flaws had plenty of stand-out moments and ideas to leave it lingering with you after the credits roll.
“Wish Upon’ centres around Clare Shannon (The Conjuring’s Joey King), an artistic teenage girl who has come out the other side of a tragic event in her childhood, only to be faced with darker horrors; High School. It doesn’t stop there for poor old Clare; she also has to keep her trash-rummaging Dad, Jonathan (Cruel Intentions’ Ryan Philippe) from self-destructing; or worse, embarrassing her while he does it.
The film allows us time to meet the various players in her life, both in and out of school. Those who make her life easier; her neighbour (Twin Peak’s Sherilyn Fenn) and her squad of besties Meredith (Sydney Park) and June (Barb from Stranger Things, Shannon Purser) to those who don’t, namely chief bitch, Darcie Chapman (Josephine Langford).
After a tumultuous day of fights (great use of the word smegma) and classroom politics, Clare is actually pleased when dear old dad brings home an old Chinese music box from his day of rummaging for her to study (she takes Chinese classes you see). Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for her to figure out that the box is supposed to grant the owner seven wishes. Sounds too good to be true right? Yeah…
The old adage (and tagline for this film) goes, “Be careful what you wish for” and “Wish Upon” takes that and runs a country mile with it; with joyful abandon I might add. Having made her first wish against her nemesis Darcie, Clare is initially blind to the signs that her wishes have negative repercussions. They each have a cost; and a lot of the film’s fun comes from trying to predict what that may be, who it could effect, and crucially, how it will mess them up.
Once the rules of the box are firmly in place, and Clare is wishing up a storm, it becomes clear that she is heading down a dangerous path. The death toll piles up too; I wouldn’t dare spoil these either, suffice to say they tread that sweet line between grim and hilarious. Those looking for an out and out gore fest will be disappointed; the tone here is similar to that of the Final Destination franchise. Glorious set-ups and sweetly grim pay-offs is the name of the game. The third act plays with this too, giving several moments of multiple set-ups occurring simultaneously, making you eagerly guess as to which poor sod will ultimately bite the bullet.
The real meat of the film lies in this, and as the costs of Clare’s wishes mount up, we see her mental state flitter like a bouncy ball in a washing machine. The music box functions at times like a Horcrux or One Ring kind of object; difficult to destroy, and even harder to want to. I’d have liked the film to shine more focus on this and the addictive drug like nature Clare has of her wishes being fulfilled and the ignorance to the suffering it causes others that stems from it. At one point in the film, Clare is berated by her best friend Meredith for not having thought to wish for world peace at any point; I couldn’t help but think, “She’s got a point”.
That being said; I enjoyed a lot of this. The central performances were all solid; especially given the age of most of the lead cast. A particular shout-out goes to Ki Hong Lee (of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fame) and his portrayal of Ryan; with a short amount of screen time he really leaves an impression. That’s not to say that Joey King is a slouch; she carries a lot; and really nails her performance of a girl dealing with messed up repercussions of her choices that are way beyond her maturity levels. With this being her 3rd horror film in her brief (yet packed) career, it’s fair to say that the genre suits her!
Much like “Annabelle” before it, Leonetti peppers the film with interesting use of camera and sound design; both working to ramp up the suspense and often off-kilter and surreal elements of the plot. The score was great too, using the downplayed sinister music of the wish box to great effect. It acts as a sweet lullaby alongside the gruesome festivities taking place.
Just like baking a banging cake; if you’re going to tackle a classic; then you have to work harder to ensure that you’re doing it well. Least that’s what Paul Hollywood reckons in all his cakey wisdom. The same applies for film tropes; especially in horror, and I was pleased to see that this film did that for the most part. It might not re-invent the wheel, but it has fun rolling it.
Wish Upon takes it’s premise and runs with it. By the time the credits roll, all loose ends will be tied and you’ll be likely to want to see another in the series and if the post-credits sequence is anything to go by, the filmmakers want that too. I’m intrigued to see if a sequel would up the ante to more global affecting wishes that get biblically out of control than this instalments more personal ones. I’d missed this breed of horror film and had long awaited a return to it. I feel like this is the start of my wish being granted…
Words by Robert Trott