NOTE: SPOILER ALERTS COMING
THE FINAL WISH is a movie about Aaron Hammond (Michael Welch), a recent law school graduate who, after finally passing the bar, is trying to build a career and life in Chicago. After a disappointing day of rejection and eviction, Aaron receives a call that his father has passed away and that he must return home to the small Ohio town that he left years before.
Upon his return, Aaron must face his mother Kate (Lin Shaye), his friends Jeremy and Tyrone (Jonathan Daniel Brown and Jean Elie), and his former love Lisa (Melissa Bolona), who feel like they have been abandoned by Aaron after leaving for law school and Chicago. And while Aaron faces these not so welcoming faces from his past, his luck begins to change as the things he longs for and wishes for come to fruition. However, it does not take long for Aaron to realize that all his good fortune comes at a cost.
The trouble for Aaron, and others in the film, all centers around a small urn with a ram’s head on top. This is the vessel that holds wishes. When a person who is in possession of the urn makes a wish, the evil Djinn that resides in the urn becomes stronger and can take on any form it wants. It is later revealed that once a person who is in possession of the urn makes seven wishes, they lose their soul.
THE FINAL WISH has been highly anticipated as it comes from the mind of Jeffrey Reddick, the writer of the Final Destination franchise. During the Q& A after the Screamfest premier on October 17th, Reddick discussed that he wrote from a personal standpoint about the guilt he felt leaving his mother and sister behind in Kentucky while he, like Aaron in the movie, ventured off into the big city. Reddick also mentioned that the character of Aaron is named partly after himself as his middle name is Aaron. Reddick said that along with his two co-writers, Jonathan Doyle and William Halfon, he hoped to “create a psychological fairytale.”
The film is directed by Timothy Woodward Jr. who has directed other television and movies such as Gangster Land, American Violence, and the critically-acclaimed film Traded. Woodward told the screening audience during the Q&A that he was waiting on Reddick for a new script so the two could work together. Woodward has been a long-time fan of Reddick’s since Woodward grew up watching the Final Destination franchise.
Genre favorites Lin Shaye and Tony Todd both remarked about how much they loved the script. Tony Todd stated during the Q&A that he chooses projects based on scripts, not based on genre. Shaye said, “I’m not so much a genre actor, but a storyteller.” And while Shaye ended up in the film, she was not initially on board with the project. But after a series of phone calls and emails from Woodward to Shaye’s manger, a dozen roses, and an email that Woodward should have never seen, Shaye took a lunch with Woodward and got a chance to really grill him on the project and express her concerns. Woodward was clearly able to calm Shaye’s fears as she had glowing things to say about her participation in the film.
While the Screamfest Q&A was great and wonderfully moderated by Lydia Hearst, it made this reviewer excited for a movie she didn’t get to see. I’m not saying that I didn’t get to watch THE FINAL WISH screening, I am saying that the movie the cast and crew were describing and raving about is not the film I saw.
Before I get too deep into the rest of this review, I do want to commend the cast. I think that they all did stellar jobs in this film. It just feels like there was a lot that was shot that did not make it to the screen. Other comments throughout the Q&A seemed to reinforce this as well.
While THE FINAL WISH echoes a story like The Monkey’s Paw, the film just wasn’t very scary or very suspenseful. The characters all start out harsh and unlikable and none of them really have a lot of redeeming qualities about them. While I understand what Reddick and Woodward were aiming for with each character, there just wasn’t enough on the screen to build up or to explain their eventual turns in the film. For me, Tyrone and Jeremy are the most likable characters in the film, but I wanted to like Aaron, Kate, and Lisa a lot more.
There were also some confusing elements to the film. The movie beings in one Victorian house full of antiques and then switched to Aaron’s childhood home which is also a Victorian full of antiques. Visually it took me a moment to realize that they were not the same houses. And while some of you might be saying, but what about exterior shots? There are places in the film where the exterior shots of each place shift and until you are on the inside of the location, it is not as evident that it’s a location the film has taken you to before.
Speaking of the two Victorian houses. While the connection to these two houses is made later in the film, the action at the beginning of the film is not connected to almost any of the end of the film which left me wondering when it was going to pay off. I almost wish that the film had begun with more of a buildup of Aaron’s character and his daily life, which would have allowed the audience to feel more for him instead of the scene in the Victorian house. I think the scene that begins the film could have been more useful as a flashback later to really help the audience understand the severity of the object that connects the two incidents. There would have been more show not tell that way.
There were also a lot of things that distracted me in this film. For example, there is a scene where Aaron, Lisa, and Lynette (Spencer Locke) have to visit a mental institution. The exterior of the institution is believable, but the inside is not. From the mental patient who carried around a porcelain doll (that’s a liability) to the decrepit walls that literally have paint peeling off the walls and no real furniture anywhere in the place. The whole thing was just one bad creepy trope that left me thinking I know mental institutions are bad, but not THIS bad.
While I understand that horror films are fiction, there is supposed to be enough believability in them for the audience to buy in. Sadly, there was not enough of that for me.
While I saw what Reddick was trying to do with each character, they all started off so elevated, there was not time to really build any affection for them. And we are supposed to believe that Aaron is judged heavily because he has what appears to be a scar from a former cleft palette. He also mentions at different places in the film that he wishes he was better looking. But one single scar does not do away with Aaron’s overall good looks. For the part of the story that focuses on his looks, I almost wanted him to be actually disfigured, not a simple scar on his face.
Now I know some of you are like, I have a scar and it negatively effects my life. Ok, I hear that and I am sorry it negatively effects your life. However, I am not writing about you or making judgments about people’s views about themselves. I am writing about this film and the believability that this particular character would be judged to the point of unemployment for a simple scar on his face.
When Aaron does get his wish to be better looking, the amount of bandages that they cover his face with in the hospital are so over the top, I thought it was going to be revealed that he got a whole new face. Nope. The simple, single line scar is gone. That kind of surgery would not have required his whole head and face to be wrapped in gauze or really require a week’s stay in the hospital.
My favorite part of the hospital scene is that they discharge Aaron before they even take the bandages off to see if he really is ready to go home. They also made him stay in his hospital gown. That’s not really how getting discharged from a hospital works. And that is certainly not how post-surgery wound care works either.
The film is supposed to take place in a small no name town in Ohio, but somehow the town houses three major antique and antiquities dealers, one of which, is Colin (Tony Todd). The other two are Aaron’s father and Lynette’s father. Three men with incredible knowledge, but who somehow never moved onto a university or major museum. I’m not saying that smart men don’t exist in small towns, but their location and centrality were all too convenient for me.
There is also the story around the urn that holds wishes that is the root of all the issues for Aaron and Lynette’s families. According to Colin the item dates back tens of thousands of years, but it was bought at an estate sale. While I have no doubt such things happen, it makes no sense why Aaron’s father or Colin would not have tried to take the piece to a museum or to an auction to make a huge profit off of it. And while we see evidence of both Lynette’s dad and Aaron benefiting for a time from the urn, all we hear about Aaron’s dad and the urn is that he got sick.
There is also this running through line that people have told Arron about numerous important events, but he never seems to remember that he was told these things. This idea may be tied to the film’s ending but I didn’t really get that from the film. I kept waiting for the payoff for all these big things Aaron had missed out on, but there were just not any.
And while I will not give away the ending of the film, I will say that the ending had one scene too many that caused even the audience who saw the film to be confused. In fact, an audience member even asked about it during the Q&A. I was glad that he did and that Woodward and Reddick explained it because I didn’t get it either.
The film does have some really beautiful cinematography, but there were a few shots throughout the film that were distracting and seemed like they were not following the line or were at weird angle that did not seem purposeful.
Overall, this film left me with the feeling that there was a lot in Reddick’s head that didn’t make it to the script. Or perhaps there was a lot in the original script that didn’t make it to the screen. During the Q&A, since the cast really sung the praises of the script and the writing, I don’t feel like what they loved so much about the movie they were making is what made it to the screen.