I remember being a teenager, standing in line to get tickets to a horror movie opening day. I wished that other people would care about those events as much as I did, and it’s actually one of the reasons I was so drawn to the idea of blogging. Of course, if I had gotten a mysterious Chinese music box right before I made the wish and it came true to ridiculous proportions the very next day while someone in my life was dying, I might stop and think very carefully before saying the words “I wish” out loud again.
So, there’s a chance I didn’t love the movie.
SPOILER ALERT: This review has some major spoilers, so consider yourselves warned.
I try to go into these movies without knowing a ton about them, but I did happen to glance the Rotten Tomatoes score for this before hitting the theater today. I have a history of having unpopular movie opinions, so that doesn’t always mean a lot, but in this case I think it’s good I didn’t get my hopes up too high.
It’s a very common theme in horror for people to get three wishes. While seven wishes isn’t unheard of, there is a reason why three is more popular – because the format works so well. The first wish is a joke, and then it comes true. Then the second wish can be a test wish or a mistake to see if the thing really works, and when that also comes true there’s a lot of tension in trying to figure out the mess you’ve made when you only have one wish left. This is a format that obviously doesn’t work as well when the protagonist has seven wishes.
In fact, you’d think that if a protagonist had seven wishes, they’d be able to have five chances to wish themselves out of their mess, right? Well, not if your protagonist is Clare, who wastes five wishes on dumb things before figuring out that it works. Based off the speed in which she’s making wishes (and how long it takes her to realize the consequences for wishing) she could almost be forgiven for not figuring it out sooner. Almost. I would have tried to let it go if it hadn’t been for her first wish.
Her first wish was for her school bully to “go rot.” The next day the girl doesn’t come to school and word gets around that she’s been hospitalized for necrotizing fasciitis, which she apparently contracted from a spa. That is a pretty huge coincidence to start things off with, and you keep thinking Clare is going to figure things out any minute. Only she doesn’t.
Her following wishes make her look dumber and more selfish at every turn. Could it be the power of the box corrupting her and making frivolous things feel more important than they are? Possibly. Could it make Clare seem like a self-involved, idiotic character who we slowly lose interest in throughout the movie? Absolutely.
She wants the boy she’s had a crush on to fall madly in love with her. She wants to inherit her dead uncle’s fortune. She wants her dad to be less embarrassing. She wants to be the most popular girl in school.
Not a single one of these wishes is subtle when it is granted, and yet it takes Clare until wish six to believe in the power of the box, and wish for anything substantial, and at that point, it’s already too late. She uses her sixth wish to make it so that her mom never committed suicide, and has to lose her dad in the process. Then, finally realizing how evil the box is, she decides to wish she was back before the box had been given to her. She then retrieves the box and asks someone else to bury it for her.
Only, there is a clause (that had been explained to her already) where if all seven wishes are used the shui gui get her soul. – Let’s pause for a minute and hope that I was hearing that wrong when they said it. Since I am not about to go buy another ticket to this, I can’t confirm yet, but I’m pretty sure they said that shui gui were responsible for the box. If I’m right about that, it’s incredibly stupid since shui gui are Chinese spirits who were drowned in life and seek out to drown others in return. There is however a Chinese demon similar to what they described in the film called a Yaogui that tricks your soul away from you by becoming what you desire – something that would have made much more sense given the premise of the film. I digress.
So of course, Clare dies.
Predictability and questionable choices aside, there were a few things that really bothered me about the movie. There were not any characters for you to sympathize with (except for the dog, who dies straight away, killing all emotional investment early on), the emotions and dialogue often felt forced, and it was very repetitive.
They did this thing when it was time for someone to die from a wish where two characters would be put into danger and it would set it up like it was trying to make you guess who would be the one to go, and how. There were several shots that were very obviously based off of the Final Destination films. In fact, the whole movie plays out like someone trying to hastily cover the fact that their screenplay is actual just Final Destination fanfiction by forcing wishes and badly adapted Chinese folklore.
And the Chinese folklore was another thing. First of all, what high school teaches Chinese? Second, why can Clare read “seven wishes” but even her teacher can’t read “soul” “blood price” or the rule about the box not being stolen or abandoned. Then they take it to another translator who gets most of it, but has to take it to one more translator? This was a small annoyance in the grand scheme of things, but it was a good example of how repetitive smaller aspects of the movie were.
I could pick apart this movie and complain about it for a long time, but unfortunately, I’ve got a podcast to record in just a couple hours, so I’ll skip ahead a bit.
Despite my many, many issues with it, Wish Upon wasn’t all bad.
Although the death scenes were highly derivative of better horror movies and had the same set up each time, a few of them were well done. They didn’t shy away from the gore, but neither was it overstated. They didn’t seem to rely on it which was refreshing, even if it wasn’t executed the best.
The sets were gorgeous and while the cinematography wasn’t notable all the way through, it had its moments.
Lastly, I thought the art was really good. Clare is an artist, as was her mother, and while having the artsy creative kid be the horror movie protagonist isn’t exactly original, they did a good job capturing her art. It was an intriguing layer to her character, to the atmosphere of the film, and it was the one redeemable quality about Clare as a character. It wasn’t overly relevant to the plot, but it was well done and worth mentioning.
All in all, I can see why it got the low score. It makes me sad because with a few small changes, this could have been a wonderful film, but it missed the mark. It’s not painful to sit through or anything, but neither is it something that you have to see in theater, or own a copy of. Maybe wait until a streaming site picks it up to watch this one.