Wish Upon movie review: be careful what movies you see about wishes you should be careful about

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Wish Upon red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Simple, yet stupid. A magic box grants a teen wishes… that don’t come free. Apparently they’re not making eighth graders read “The Monkey’s Paw” anymore.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Have you ever heard the phrase “Be careful what you wish for?” You haven’t? Then you are the only person besides Ohio high-schooler Clare, who acquires a magic box that grants seven wishes, and doesn’t seem to think there’s anything hinky going on even once way too many people around her are dying in freakish ways after she wishes to get rich — and does! — and wishes to be the most popular girl in school — and it happens! — and so on. I mean, one bizarre accident in your vicinity is weird, and two is a coincidence. But three? Four? Has Clare never been exposed to any of the approximately 8,533,084 cautionary tales about magic wishes and the high prices to be paid for them?

I blame the schools. Are they not making eighth graders read “The Monkey’s Paw” anymore? But c’mon: there’s still Syfy’s New Year’s and Fourth of July Twilight Zone marathons! There is no excuse for any American not to know that magic wishes are dangerous.tweet

“It’s a warning that those who deploy exotic Orientalism will pay with crappy box office.”
“It’s a warning that those who deploy exotic Orientalism will pay with crappy box office.”tweet

To be fair(ish) to Wish Upon, it’s entirely possible that neither director John R. Leonetti (Annabelle) nor screenwriter Barbara Marshall have ever stumbled across the idea that one should be careful what one wishes for either, for they present their tale with something like revelatory glee, like they invented the concept. A box? A “fancy” box that’s “got Chinese writing on it”? And it grants wishes? That don’t come for free? Gosh. (The Chinese-language teacher at Clare’s school should be way more interested when she asks him about it. See, the problem really is disengaged teachers.) Also to be fair(ish) to Clare (Joey King: Going in Style, Independence Day: Resurgence), some of the people who pay the price for Clare’s wishes with their deaths are only distantly, tangentially connected to her, so much so that she doesn’t know about one for quite a while after it happens, and wouldn’t learn about another (of someone she just met) if someone else she barely ever speaks to hadn’t told her about it. I mean, this is some bullshit black magic, not even really ironic or anything, if those blood prices to be paid are going to be extracted so randomly. Sheesh, that is not reasonable karma. How is a selfish adolescent supposed to care about people she doesn’t even have homeroom with?

How is a selfish teen supposed to care about the blood-price deaths of people she doesn’t even have homeroom with?

Why are some people immune to mass-effect wishes, like the one that makes Clare so popular at school? Why does the box extract bloody payments even when no wish has been made? What is Clare’s dad’s (Ryan Phillippe: The Lincoln Lawyer, MacGruber) problem with Uncle August (Victor Sutton), and what are the family “secrets [that] were too big to live with” that dad thinks prompted mom’s (Elisabeth Röhm: Joy, American Hustle) suicide a dozen years ago? What is with the odd flashback featuring a blink-and-you-miss-him Jerry O’Connell (Veronica Mars, Obsessed) as the previous owner of the box? Were we spared an even longer and more tedious version of this movie that offered all the answers?tweet If so, it is because I wished for that, and now one of you reading this will die terribly in a cheesy Final Destination-esque way. I’m not even sorry. It was worth it.

“Oh my god, I got the movie all over me! Getitoff getitoff!”
“Oh my god, I got the movie all over me! Getitoff getitoff!”tweet

I fear, however, that someone evil is setting up a franchise of unscary low-budget horror crap, including prequels, in which a succession of dull people make obvious wishes with the box and pay for them in completely unsurprising ways.

Even given all of this, the most implausible thing about Wish Upon is that Clare’s dad is secretly a sexy sax player buried under a dumpster-diving trash scavenger. (We learn this when Clare wishes for her dad to be less embarrassing, and he digs out his old saxophone.) No, wait: the most implausible thing about Wish Upon is that after the opening sequence, in which five-year-old Clare (Raegan Revord) drops her training-wheels bike on the lawn outside her house, that damn bike is still there, has not been moved an inch, in the intervening decade-plus, merely because, I guess, that was the moment at which Clare walked in on her mom hanging herself. We know it’s still there because director Leonetti keeps returning to a low angle on the lawn, looking up at Clare’s house from the rusty bike like this image is making some weighty statement about grief or abandonment when all it makes us think is, How is it possible that the bike is still there? How is it possible that over the course of a dozen years, no one has touched it? This is ridiculous.

It’s the perfect illustration of the simple-yet-stupidtweet ethos of Wish Upon, which doesn’t seem to understand what it wants to say or how to say it. Maybe it has nothing to say except the shocking admonition to — dum dum DUM — be careful what you wish for.

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Mon, Jul 17, 2017 8:12am

It’s not necessarily even that there are all those stories warning you about wishes – it’s that every story about wishes is about how they go wrong.

But that prop box is gorgeous. Someone put a lot of work into that.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Thu, Jul 20, 2017 10:00am

This might be the first movie in which a prop is the best thing about it.

reply to  RogerBW
Fri, Jul 21, 2017 12:42am

You know sometimes I feel bad when some person or team (e.g. set design, costuming, props, score) obviously puts a lot of work and talent into something that ends up in a terrible movie… But then I think… hey at least they brought some talent to this terrible thing, and get to see their work on the screen. The terrible writing doesn’t reflect on their part of the movie, and hey it’ll probably make great resume fodder for their next gig.