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The Mass Media

‘Wish Upon’ Movie Review: Oh, How I Wish They Didn’t

I am about 87 percent sure this is how director John Leonetti pitched his idea for this movie to producer Sherryl Clark and her friends at Busted Shank Productions:
“Look at this crazy-looking music box; let’s make a horror movie about it!”
The Chinese music box at the center of “Wish Upon” is ornate, unique, and kind of creepy. In the middle of the night, it plays a tune and its lid opens slowly to alert people that it is taking a blood sacrifice. Somehow, I can picture a studio executive’s daughter seeing it at a flea market and bringing it home, then someone deciding to center a horror movie around it. Boom—just like that, the script was probably banged out a week later. Giving the movie the absolute highest benefit of the doubt, “Wish Upon” is “The Monkey’s Paw” for dating teenagers.
Clare Shannon (played by Joey King, who I can see having a real career in the future, save for what is going on here) is a social pariah because her dad (Ryan Phillippe) won’t stop dumpster diving across the street from her high school where everyone can see. This leaves her with only three friends, including Meredith (Sydney Park). Park steals the show by giving her character a vibrant personality, which is different from the other characters who may have been casted in order to be as flat and vacant as possible. The characters also include Ryan (played by Ki Hong Lee from “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), who pines away for Clare while she pines away for the school jock.
Enter the Chinese music box that dad finds in the trash. The box gives Clare seven magic wishes. The possibilities here are potentially delicious even as a simple high school revenge film. Movie reviewers and armchair critics will wail about how they would use their wishes for “world peace” or some nonsense, but honestly, most people would just use them like Clare does—to selfishly solve their own immediate problems. Clare, very quickly, realizes her wishes are coming true and keeps making more wishes. When she learns that her wishes are having deadly consequences, she continues to act in a way that makes her look far worse than the movie—and King—probably intended.
My assumption that the script was completed in a week is made edivent by how fast, loose, and convoluted the rules of the music box are. The box opens up and somehow claims a blood sacrifice. At first, it seems to be someone directly related to the wish. Then, it appears to be someone in Clare’s life. Then, it appears to be randomly deciding between anyone in an odd sequence that jump-cuts back and forth between two potential victims. The box claims its victims by orchestrating freak accidents straight out of the “Final Destination” series: from slipping in a bathtub to more elaborate not-quite-Rube-Goldberg sequences of misdirection involving elevators, garbage disposals, car tires, and, hilariously, a chainsaw trimming a tree branch. 
And then, on top of all this, the movie goes to work building another layer to the mythology regarding what happens to the wisher themselves—and then breaks that rule in the most critical moment when the movie should just be hitting its final jump. Not even a weird, wordless Jerry O’Connell flashback cameo can make sense of it. Despite all of this, I laughed out loud a few times.
“Wish Upon” often dips into so-bad-it’s-funny territory. After Clare wishes for the jock at school to fall in love with her, he follows her around like a pathetic, expressionless puppy. After she wishes her father would “stop being so lame,” he stops dumpster diving and starts dressing in all black and holding late night solo jam sessions on his saxophone. The movie also sounds like it was written by someone with no awareness for how teenagers talk. The teens in this movie drop slang nobody would ever use. When Ryan and Clare discover they have something in common, Lee has to deliver the line “you dig on multi-verses”—as in the very niche concept of multi-verses that is the basis for several major shows on network TV shows currently.
The whole premise, and all its nasty promise, gets buried under a long-winded wreck of half-thought rules, misplaced priorities, and what I assume to be the horror sequences that Leonetti fumbles around without the foggiest idea about how they should play. Forget making them tense, we’re miles away from creating tension here. At best, “Wish Upon” could have been salvaged with a sleazy B-movie exploitation tone, but that wouldn’t appeal to the dating teenagers who dig on multi-verses and saxophones.