Film Review: Wish Upon

A mysterious box grants wishes in this clever teen horror tale about the price of getting what you ask for.
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Clare Shannon (Joey King) is the living the high school nightmare. The mean girls and their acolytes miss no opportunity to belittle and torment her, and there's plenty of ammunition available when the butt of your sniggering remark and petty harassment is the artsy kid whose mom committed suicide—the one who doesn't have cool clothes or a car and lives in the neighborhood eyesore with her trash-picking dad, Jonathan (Ryan Philippe).

On the plus side, Clare has two loyal friends in June (Shannon Purser) and Meredith (Sydney Park). Three if you count Ryan (Ki Hong Li), who's cute and sweet and too shy to admit that he's has a crush on her since they were kids. And for all his failings, Clare's father is trying. When he finds an ornate, cinnabar-and-black music box covered with intricate carvings in some rich folks' trash, his first impulse is to clean it up and give it to Clare as an early birthday gift. The road to hell, as the old saying goes. The gift turns out to be a Chinese wishing box whose power to make good things happen comes at a price.

Genre fans will see the influence of films ranging from Hellraiser (the wishing box is cousin to the Lament Configuration) to the Final Destination series' baroque, meticulously orchestrated deaths by freak accident. But, to its credit, Wish Upon is more character-oriented than most mainstream horror movies. Granted, the queen bitches are little more than the sum of perfect hair, stylish outfits and withering contempt for anyone who, by choice or circumstance, fails to live up to their superficial standards. But King's Clare is a thoroughly believable teenager, smart and talented but also over-sensitive and self-centered, loyal and loving yet secretly desperate for a taste of life in the charmed lane and prone to addictive behavior. The box's power is like a drug: scary but too intensely pleasurable to easily give up. Even more surprising, Philippe gives subtle nuance to the part of Jonathan, no mean feat in a genre where parents exist almost entirely as backstory--absent, abusive, depressed, clueless.

Wish Upon isn't a genre changer, but it's better than it needs to be while delivering the PG-rated goods. One character's memorable death by kitchen misadventure is a keeper, and another's near-miss after a vehicular breakdown on a little-travelled road subverts expectations while delivering a short, sharp and nicely timed shock. And look for Jerry O’Connell in an uncredited cameo—it's short but memorable.

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