Cinematic Releases: Wish Upon (2017) - Reviewed

The first dramatized iteration of W.W. Jacobs’ 1902 short story The Monkey’s Paw I became familiar with came in the form of Nickelodeon’s nighttime Snick series Are You Afraid of the Dark? with the debut episode The Tale of the Twisted Claw.  A timeless horror tale spoken of the same breath as Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, it tells the story of three wishes granted to the owner of the monkey’s paw with dire consequences following each request.  Upon looking up the story I was startled to learn just how many variant as well as faithful adaptations Jacob’s supernatural horror fable saw, including the 2013 film The Monkey’s Paw which fared poorly with critics and audiences.  It was only a matter of when that this easily adaptable yarn would get the silver screen treatment for the umteenth time.  What I didn’t expect was that the task would fall onto the director of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation…oh and Annabelle too.

Aptly named Wish Upon, part time director/full time cinematographer John R. Leonetti transposes Jacobs’ tale to a Canadian high school as The Conjuring scream queen Joey King plays Clare Shannon, a bullied misfit with a tragic past whose role as the school’s laughing stock soon changes when her father Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe) discovers a mysterious music box with strange powers.  Despite good performances by Phillippe, Sherilyn Fenn and King’s turn as the leading damsel in distress, this PG-13 horror venture is predictable and formulaic.  Aside from moody cinematography by Michael Galbraith and a brilliant electronic score by The Rules of Attraction composer tomandandy, Wish Upon is more or less tween horror best suited for slumber parties while serving up just enough glimpses of death scenes recycled from the Final Destination movies sapped dry of much in the way of blood and gore that it narrowly evades an R rating. 

While not overtly bad, Wish Upon is largely an average thriller chiller with well drawn characters at the service of a tired and worn plotline.  Curious that this was released by Broad Green Pictures, the same company that also released the infinitely better and far more horrific The Neon Demon.  That was, for my money, a masterful film that burrowed itself so far under viewers’ barriers and comfort zones that it elicited some of the noisiest vocal reactions to any film in recent memory.  While Wish Upon got a few people to jump out of their seats and shriek here and there, it’s all based on generic jump scares with the volume turned to full blast to give those with heart conditions the kiss of death and otherwise seasoned horror fans yet another thing to roll their eyes at.  

The horror genre and use of horror in modern film has been as exciting and innovative as ever, notably with Twin Peaks: The Return breaking new ground while scaring the Hell out of longtime fans.  Moreover companies like Shout Factory and Arrow Video have been reintroducing modern filmgoers to forgotten as well as cherished classics of the genre, further the education of newcomers as well as seasoned consumers of all things horror.  With renewed interest in horror masters including John Carpenter, Dario Argento and everything from the Grindhouse shocker to the giallo slasher, one can’t help but sigh in dismay while watching Wish Upon when they end up with more of the same old schtick yet again.  Not necessarily a shoddy production, just one that will travel in one ear and out the other.

- Andrew Kotwicki