Family experiences tragic event. Surviving, adolescent member of the family finds a possessed object he's not supposed to. The friends, family and/or the kids who bully the person at school are subsequently killed off, until the main character manages to destroy or subdue the aforementioned possessed object. The main character is possessed himself, with varying results.
Most teen horror flicks today tend to utilize a variety (if not all) of these ingredients with a healthy dose of social media drama thrown in. Their only truly inventive aspects, at this point, are the ways in which characters are killed off. Wish Upon is no exception; if the film’s goal was to execute this tired but profitable formula, while reaffirming the general public’s belief that teenage girls are the worst, it does so admirably.
Clare’s (Joey King) mother committed suicide when she was younger. This left her alone with her dad (a scruffy Ryan Phillippe), who spends most of his time rummaging through garbage cans for gently-used antiques. One day, he finds a box engraved with Chinese characters and gifts it to Clare, who is conveniently enrolled in a Chinese class. She deduces that the box grants seven wishes to its owner; also conveniently, the fine print is written in ancient Chinese, which they don’t teach in public school.
Clare starts making wishes, oblivious to the box’s big catch: for each one she makes, someone close to her dies. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you look at it), Clare is a broody outcast and only interacts with about seven people.
Wish Upon assembles a decent cast to play out this nightmare scenario, especially 17-year-old King. Phillippe might be condemned from now on to painfully average network shows (this fall, he portrays a guy named Bob Swagger on USA’s Shooter). But King has the potential to graduate from playing B-Lister's daughters and members of hapless horror movie families; she grounds the film with a convincing, appropriately disturbing performance.
Barb from Stranger Things (Shannon Purser) plays one of Clare's two friends, and The Maze Runner's Ki Hong Lee is an intense, welcome presence in her life as a Chinese classmate who assists in deciphering the box's message.
Wish Upon is mostly by-the-numbers camp (except for the fact that Phillippe’s character plays the saxophone, which is a bizarre and meme-worthy twist). But it does generate some legitimate suspense, particularly when alternating between character's grisly deaths and the sinister box that's causing them. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it'll satiate your desire for a mostly cheesy, occasionally gory horror movie.
It should also be noted that the film was met with raucous cheers from the Cinemark Valley View audience at the advance screening during two unprecedented aerial shots of downtown Cleveland. I can’t imagine it will receive the same gracious applause anywhere else.