Wish Upon, a teen horror film about being careful of what you wish for, feels more like a TV movie than a potential frachise-starter. With unimaginative direction from Annabelle helmer John R. Leonetti and a casually regressive Orientalist script by Barbara Marshall, it’s hard to decide by the end of the film if you’re rooting for its self-absorbed heroine to start making smarter decisions or for the Chinese murder box to finish what it started.
Wish Upon is the story of Claire Shannon (Joey King), an unhappy teen girl whose mother killed herself years prior. What Claire may lack in material wealth she more than makes up for in family, friends, and community. She’s far from the most popular girl in school—for some inexpicable reason, she is actually the popular kids’ favorite punching bag—but she has people in her life who truly love her.
Claire’s dad Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe) may be a hoarder, but he would do anything for his daughter. As would her hilarious, supportive best friends and her next door neighbor. Claire is even the object of affection for one of her classmates, Ryan (Maze Runner‘s Ki Hong Lee). When Claire’s father gifts her a Chinese wish box he finds in the trash, she gets seven wishes… that come at a terrible price.
There’s an interesting potential film theme in here somewhere—one about wishing for what we want versus what we need, or one about reframing your perspective to be grateful for what you have—but this film prioritizes the tropes of horror above all else, including the exploration of those potential themes. It seems to be aiming more for the delightful, inventive gore of Final Destination than the thought-provoking social commentary of Get Out. It succeeds at neither.
Wish Upon isn’t, however, devoid of total enjoyment. Like the best over-the-top TV movies, Wish Upon is reminiscent of what starts as a seemingly normal story that quickly spirals into high drama, cheap scares, and deliciously predictable deaths. It makes for a great group horror film, one you don’t have to exert too much attention on, but that will have you yelling at the screen with your friends.
So bad that it might be the stereotypically good cliché, many people at the screening I attended howled at some of the more eye-rollingly obvious moments. From flirting over a vapid discussion of the multiverse to Phillipe’s smooth sax stylings as sexy dad Jonathan, to the horrors of death by garbage disposal, Wish Upon had its moments drenched in seemingly unintentional fun.
The most interesting part of watching this movie is trying to decide if the main character deserves to live or die. We know from the beginning that the Chinese wish box is killing off innocents left and right. It takes Claire a bit longer to put the pieces together. When she does, she seriously drags her feet on getting rid of the box or even resisting the temptation to make another wish. It’s a baffling choice for a character who, played earnestly enough by King, previously seemed good at heart. But at a certain point in the film, Claire begins to value her wishes above human life. Not even her smart, well-intentioned friends (Sydney Park and Stranger Things‘ Shannon Purser) can help her. It seems Purser in particular is cursed to play the sidekick character to female friends who make stubbornly bad choices.
Ultimately, this is a cruel film, and one that seems to think relatively poorly of teenagers in general, falling into some of the worst, most vacuous stereotypes about young people today. Because of this, Wish Upon seems more interested in teaching its tormented main character a cheap lesson than delivering inventive, honest horror.
If you don’t care much about the story in your horror films, Wish Upon could be the fun, unintentionally funny cinematic experience you’re looking for. After all, it doesn’t seem to care much about the story its telling either.