Misfit teenager Claire (Joey King) is given a supernatural Chinese music box by her scavenger father (Ryan Phillipe). She discovers it has the power to grant seven wishes – though her good fortune must be paid for in someone else’s blood.
After a set-up establishing that high schooler Claire (Joey King) has had a blighted life since the suicide of her mother (Elisabeth Rohm), she clutches a magic object (a nicely-designed Chinese puzzle/music box) and wishes the mean girl at school would ‘just rot’. The next day, teen princess of Instagram Darcie (Josephine Langford) wakes up with her face and toes falling off due to necrotising fasciitis. Then Claire’s beloved dog is found in the crawlspace, disembowelled and eaten by rats.
Nevertheless, it takes several more wishes – a devoted boyfriend! a mansion! popularity! – andfreak accidents involving sympathetic secondary characters and kitchen/bathroom/loft appliances before Claire works out how this particular double-edged curse works. It’s as if all those valiant souls who make non-theatrical sequels to Hellraiser, Witchboard and Wishmaster have striven in vain. Among those who have issued warnings about monkeying with monkeys’ paws or messing with multiverses is director John R. Leonetti, who has track records in the be-careful-what-you-wish-for and cursed-object fields, with The Butterfly Effect 2 and Conjuring spinoff Annabelle.
Scripted by Barbara Marshall – who wrote Viral and Top Dog – Wish Upon has the feel of something tooled to be a new franchise. It ties itself in knots with several backstories for its curse, as if it were the follow-up to a movie starring barely-glimpsed Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn as previous doomed owners of the wishing box, as well as the template for sequels and spin-offs of its own. Wish Upon is one among a recent wave of spooky pictures aimed at teenage girls, including Ouija, Unfriended and Friend Request. This adds a shopping montage, an idiot bloke as ogled object of desire (Mitchell Slaggert) and the high school pecking order to a mix which includes familiar, always-effective horror schtick as characters blithely wander into mortal peril. In one set-piece, Sherilyn Fenn finds as many ways of imperilling herself while cooking dinner as in any vintage safety-in-the-home educational film.
Though a jumble – the story is at once predictable and awkwardly structured – Wish Upon works fairly well, and is certainly a step up from Leonetti’s last non-sequel (the Manson murders movie Wolves at the Door). King is an engaging, credibly fallible lead and has a nice rapport with her besties (Shannon Purser from Stranger Things, Sydney Park) and the reliable Ryan Philippe does wonders with an underwritten deadbeat Dad role. Meanwhile Alice Lee is so much fun as an exposition-spouting Chinese goth chick, you hope the spinoff will be all about her.
From a school where two girls can re-enact the alleyway scene from They Live at lunchtime with no disciplinary consequences, to a little girl’s bike left to rot where she dropped it the day her Mum died, you have to be able to live with a raft of unbelievable things. And that's before getting to the intricate curse, which implies a cosmic order more to do with horror film cliché than any system of demonology you can look up on the internet. Half-smart and half-dumb, this does get by, but only thanks to daft entertainment value and some very committed performances.
A little reticent in gore gimmicks for the Final Destination crowd, but considered as a middle school between Goosebumps and Clive Barker, it’s just the haunted lottery ticket.