Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the horror feature WISH UPON by director John R. Leonetti. To best describe the story, I will use a slightly modified version of the IMDB plot summary:
“A teenage girl discovers a magic box that can grant seven wishes, for a price.”
Watching this film was an interesting experience as it was hard not to compare it to a few other horror movies that popped up in the late nineties and early aughts. In a way I mean that fondly as that time period had a lot of high concept horror, but most of these pictures were never quite as scary as their conceit would lead one to believe. That being said, it was refreshing to have a new mythology to explore and, heck, to finally have a horror feature that eschewed the eighties nostalgia for a modern take on those nineties chillers.
While the concept is certainly fascinating, some of the short hand used to build the characters is rather unsatisfying. The beginning is an amalgamation of lots of terrible things happening to our lead actress in an effort to get us to understand her troubled life. Most of these things have been done to death in other movies (she has tragedy in her past, she dresses a bit goth, the popular girl ruins the things she worked so hard on, she is in love with the popular jock who ignores her, etc.), but luckily most of this is done through visuals rather than over expository dialogue. Most of the supporting cast is fleshed out in a similar fashion, which leaves it to the actors to make their characters noteworthy.
While the writing might be trying to play upon our sympathies, the performers are the ones who make most of the scenes actually work. It is a boon to this film that the majority of the actors make their roles distinctive as that elevates the proceedings above some of the more stereotypical moments. The reliance on common tropes did seep into some of the parts in such a way that the less screen time the person had, the more likely their role had little meat. This fact leaves some of the supporting cast in the lurch, but also gives the main cast more time to shine.
Story tropes and character short hand out of the way, the main mythology of this piece is a rather fascinating spin on the genie legends. What distinguishes this version from other, similarly themed pictures is that the relic at play takes its origins from Chinese culture rather than the more common Middle Eastern myths. As such, the rules are a bit different, though ironic twists are still a common occurrence. In addition to the rich mythology at play, we are also presented with a history lesson on the actual box that seems like it might be setting up yet another origin story spin off. Both of these factors working together help to create a concept that is much more intriguing than the horror elements.
To be honest, I did not really find this to be all that scary. Sure, there were a few tense moments, but the first half was so full of predictable deaths that it had very little impact. If the focus turned to someone who was not currently in the presence of our lead while the music box was open, odds are that person is about to die. The most effective use of this was during the second half where the camera varied between a few different characters during one scene, teasing us that one of them was about to perish. If the entire picture had played out this way, it would have been a much more interesting ride.
All in all, the high concept is fascinating, but there are not enough scares. Even with the lack of horror, our actors prove capable and the mythology based second half is pretty entertaining. Fans of FINAL DESTINATION (2000) or WISHMASTER (1997) will find this to be of a similar vein.
WISH UPON will be in theaters nationwide Friday, July 14, 2017
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