In the horror movies heyday of the 1980s, every movie had to be bigger and bloodier than the next, pushing the limits of the R-rating as far as the MPAA would allow. A lot of times directors would shoot extremely gorier scenes deliberately, knowing they would have to be trimmed down to something closer to what they intended to get the R-rating, playing psychological games with the ratings board to trick them into giving the directors what they wanted. These films were usually made on the cheap but found box office success for the most part, unhampered by that Restricted rating.
But somewhere along the way, these films which usually came from smaller, independent studios suddenly were being made by the big Hollywood studios, and they had but one edict – it has to make money. And the only way to make money is to make sure it has the widest audience possible so they started insisting that these traditionally bloody films now came with a maximum PG-13 rating (and that rating was born partly out of the controversy of the PG rated Poltergeist and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), which pretty much put the kibosh on what the directors could show as far as blood and gore. For some movies that involve more supernatural and ghostly happenings, a PG-13 was not that harsh of a punishment. For the ones that really rely on most of the cast being killed in creative ways, a PG-13 can be a real buzz kill.
And that brings us to Wish Upon, a film that deals with supernatural forces and creative deaths … and a PG-13 rating. The story focuses on Clare Shannon (Joey King), a high schooler who witnessed her mother’s suicide by hanging at a very young age. Prior to her death, mom placed an object in the trash can outside the house. Years later, her father Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe) has become an obsessive dumpster diver much to Clare’s embarrassment but one day he finds an interesting box with Chinese writing on it and gives it to Clare as a gift. In a movie full of one too many plot devices … erm, coincidences, Clare is actually studying Chinese in school so she knows enough to read the words “seven wishes” inscribed on the box. Bullied at school, Clare decides to wish that her main bully would just rot. And she does. But soon after, Clare’s beloved dog dies. Tired of being the “poor kid” at school, Clare then wishes her uncle would leave her everything in his will (and her father says that will never happen). He does after he dies a mysterious death, but Clare still hasn’t put two and two together yet. It takes her five wishes and five deaths, including another neighbor and one of her best friends before she finally realizes that the box — and she — just might be responsible. But can she stop wishing? Even if after the seventh wish the box claims her soul? Or is there a loophole because your lead character certainly cannot die a horrible death. Or can she?
Wish Upon is … fun. Not a term you really want to use for a movie which depicts people dying in gruesome ways, but that’s part of the problem. Saddled with the PG-13 rating, the film never shows any of the gruesome deaths, always cutting away just before things get really gnarly (like a decapitation with a chain saw). The movie goes out of its way to set up these Final Destination style deaths, but the audience is left feeling cheated by never seeing anyone actually die. It really becomes frustrating and is very detrimental to the film as a whole. Perhaps the studio will release an R or Unrated version when the film comes to home video.
On the plus side, the movie is very well made and has a good cast, with one exception. Joey King is fine as the teen, and she really shows how Clare’s attitude changes once her wishes start coming true. Coming from nothing to suddenly having an endless supply of money and the hottest boy at school crushing on her, she’s very reluctant to give it all up even when she realizes she’s responsible for all of those deaths. Everyone else in the cast plays to their types, but the standouts are Clare’s friends, played by Sydney Park and Shannon Purser, but for different reasons. Park is terrific as sassy friend Meredith who is also the voice of reason, and she’s not shy about calling out Clare’s behavior once she becomes the popular girl as school. On the other hand, it was really shocking to see Stranger Things‘ Barb, Shannon Purser, as Clare’s other friend June turn in one of the worst performances in the film, if not the worst. Purser is fine in her little time on Stranger Things (for which she was nominated for an Emmy!), and she’s also okay as Ethel on Riverdale. Here it seems like she never saw the script until the day of shooting, almost always with a slight but bland smile on her face and very little emotion in any of her line deliveries. Perhaps she did snag the role at the last minute, but many people at the screening commented afterwards just how bad she was. With two films in the can for 2018, I’m hoping that this performance was just a fluke for her. And while the focus of the movie is on the teens, it would have been nice to give Phillippe and Sherilyn Fenn just a little more to do.
Wish Upon had enough production value and decent performances to keep me entertained even though it was frustrating at times. I can say I enjoyed it a bit more than most of the people I talked to after the screening. Your enjoyment will vary, that is certain. Not great, not terrible and certainly not scary (although I was very, very tense during a scene with a garbage disposal), Wish Upon may play well with a younger crowd, but older horror fans may want to wait to see if the video release restores some of the film’s blood and guts.
Want to see Wish Upon and judge for yourself? Click on the image below to buy your tickets now, and be sure to come back and tell us what you thought!
Wish Upon runs 1 hour 30 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language.