WISH UPON (3.5 out of 10) Directed by John R. Leonetti; Written by Barbara Marshall; Starring Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Mitchell Slaggert, Elisabeth Röhm, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park; Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language; Runnign time 90 minutes; In wide release July 14, 2017.
If you had a magic Chinese wishing box to give you seven wishes, what would you use it for? Smart theatergoers will wish for a better movie– one that doesn’t so hamfistedly telegraph its next moves and bungle its attempt at social commentary, especially by reinforcing some damaging Asian stereotypes.
Our main character is Clare, who despite being friends with Barb from Stranger Things and a sassy, video game obsessed black best friend, is a target of bullying from the resident mean girl queen bee of their high school. One of the reasons for her lower social caste is her father Ryan Phillipe’s main vocation as a junk picker– and not the kind who has his own reality tv show.
When one day he finds a strange box with Chinese writing on it, he gives it to Clare, who conveniently happens to be taking Chinese in high school. While most of the writing is indecipherable, she can read two words: “Seven Wishes.” When she later inadvertently wishes for said Regina George wannabe to “just rot or something,” it turns out her tormentor wakes up the next day with necrotizing fasciitis— yup, flesh-eating bacteria.
But because this is some crazy Chinese monkey paw folk magic type stuff, of course each wish comes with a “blood price,” first taking her dog for the price of smiting her bully. And, of course, every time Clare makes a wish, we get to see karmic retribution take its toll. These get incredibly more ridiculous as the film goes along.
This is the main problem with the film. Although sometimes the film tries to trick you with where it’s going by presenting multiple death options, it’s just not really fun, satisfying, or entertaining in, say, the way a Final Destination or Saw movie is. And in a year where you’re competing in the low budget horror genre with Get Out, this just does not stack up well. But, at least it’s better than Split.
Speaking of its social message, the film really tries hard to tackle modern high school, bullying, and social media. But none of it really lands, or even adds much to the film. And in a somewhat tonedeaf manner it casts Ki Hong Lee (Dong from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Minho from The Maze Runner movies) as Ryan, aka “Exposition Boy” who just happens to have a scholarly cousin who can decipher ancient Chinese writing.
[Minor spoilers ahead] But while Clare uses her wishes to gain the affections of Paul, a blonde white dude, Ryan is relegated to backup status, with a conversation that maybe somewhere there’s an alternate universe where they’re dating. This is an incredibly damaging trope for the Asian community, sending subconscious messages that Asian men are never fit to be romantic leads or boyfriend material, but are merely sexless confidantes and sources of information. Seriously, Ryan’s ability to do internet research and explain the backstory of our Chinese wishing box is the most scary supernatural element in this entire film. And while some may argue that the film’s denouemont “fixes” this, five minutes of conclusion doesn’t make up for the previous 85 minutes of borderline white supremacy. For a film which otherwise has such a diverse cast, it’s unfortunate it made this problematic blunder.
Perhaps the scariest thing about this movie is that Ryan Phillipe is now old enough to convincingly play the father of a teenager. But otherwise this is a fairly bland and predictable teen horror film .
3.5 out of 10