Sasquatch, Godzilla, King Kong, Loch Ness
Goblin, ghoul, a zombie with no conscience
Question: What do these things all have in common?
They’d make a better horror movie villain than a FUCKING BOX
^This movie’s antagonist
A high schooler receives a Chinese music box which grants her wishes. But this isn’t any old ordinary Chinese music box that grants wishes, this one is e v i l.
Sometime in the early 2000’s, a *blonde* woman hangs herself in an attic, in front of her *blonde* young daughter. Some decade later, ostensibly the same girl (now with dark hair) wakes up in a bed. She leaves her house and begins to bike to school, nearly getting run over by her high school bully, [bitch], and her friends, [droogs] on the way there. (To be fair, she was riding on the wrong side of the road, so it was kinda her fault). At school, she sees her father across the street, dumpster diving with his friend, Carl. She angrily confronts her dad about “not coming near her school,” and “embarrassing her.” Thing is, no one was really paying attention to him before, so by doing this, she’s just attracting attention to herself. Way to go, Clare. (Oh her name’s Clare by the way).
Going into school, she meets up with her friends, “Meredith,” and “Barb from Stranger Things” (no, seriously). She begins to hang up a poster that she drew, before [bitch] comes back and throws some sort of drink at it. Claaaaaaassic [bitch].
Clare goes to her Chinese class (this is a plot device. It becomes relevant later), where she spends the entire time fawning over her crush, [guy]. She goes to eat lunch, where she gets into a confrontation with [bitch], which everyone else in the cafeteria eagerly watches, because I guess they don’t have anything better to do? After the argument devolves into a full-blown WWE match, a teacher comes and breaks it up.
Coming back home, her dad informs her that he’s found something in the garbage for her (I guess that’s about what she deserves). Going to her room, she finds a metal time capsule with Chinese characters engraved in the side. She’s able to read some of it (because she knows Chinese, remember? Because of that Chinese class she’s in. It’s good writing, guys. I promise). She deciphers the words “wish” and “seven.” Testing the box, she decides to wish that “[bitch] would just, like, rot.” Sure enough, the next day at school her friends (a bit too excitedly) inform her that [bitch] has been diagnosed with a flesh-eating disease or something, and is in the hospital. Clare comes home to find that her dog has died.
Seemingly unable to connect these two events, Clare continues to use the Box. She wishes for [guy] to “fall madly in love with her.” The next day, [guy] loudly breaks up with his current girlfriend in the middle of a hallway, and then immediately asks Clare out. So I guess he’s [douche] now? Clare’s uncle dies the same day. She wishes for his full inheritance, which she receives, but then her neighbor dies. Eventually, Clare decides to seek help from her Chinese teacher to decipher the rest of the scripture, but he doesn’t actually know Chinese (pronked). Some kid named Ryan overhears them, and tells Clare that his cousin, Gina, can help her translate it.
They go over to the cousin’s loft, where she translates the box’s writing and gives them a lore report. In 1910, there was a plague that hit China. There was one village in which every single resident was killed, save one woman, named Lu Mei. She took the only thing of value (the music box), and went to a nearby temple to pray for revenge, which resulted in the box getting cursed by a demon or something. It’s not exactly clear what she was trying to get revenge on? Like, the concept of disease? Whatever. Clare and Ryan leave before she’s able to translate the last section.
Later, Clare wishes to be “the most popular girl in school.” Back at the apartment, Gina tries to call her and tell her what the last part of the Box said, but there’s a storm and her connection doesn’t work. She trips and gets impaled on a pointy stick.
Ryan discovers Gina’s corpse, and immediately blames it on the Box. He confronts Clare, who plays dumb (not that hard for her), but eventually concedes that the Box is bad news. They try to destroy it, but find themselves unable, so they hide it away. The Box kills Meredith for some reason, at which point Clare becomes depresso and wishes that her mom had never killed herself.
She wakes up in an alternate reality in which her mom (somehow the same age as 10+ years before) is still alive, and they all live happily ever after. Clare explores the house, before discovering a shocking truth: her mother had been the original owner of the Box, and her suicide was a result of its spooky demon magic!!11!! The box activates, and Clare watches as her dad gets violently murdered. Using her final wish, she asks to be transported to before she had ever received it.
Clare gets Groundhog Day’d back to the start of the film, but instead of going to school, rides with her dad to the place where he found the Box, and intercepts it. She takes it with her to school, where she asks Ryan (who in this timeline hadn’t spoken to her in years) to bury the box for her, before
sexually assaulting romantically kissing him. Triumphant, she begins to cross the street, before being sent flying by the car of [bitch], who had just turned the corner. Clare lands on the hood of a nearby sedan, and dies.
In the post-creds, we get a scene of Ryan burying the box, before reading what’s written on it, seeing that it grants wishes, and taking it for himself. S e q u e l b o i s?
All of the characters in this movie are dumb and one-dimensional.
The protagonist, Clare, is petty, stubborn, selfish, wilfully ignorant, and completely incognizant of long-term consequences. So basically a high school girl. (GOT EM) She underscores the “stupid horror movie person” trope not once, but twice. First, she’s unable to make the connection between her wishes coming true, the box’s power, and the bad things constantly taking place around her. Later, once she’s fully aware of the situation, she ignores everything and continues to make wishes. I understand that this movie was trying to do a Gollum type thing, where Clare falls under the Box’s influence and acts irrationally as a result, but there’s zero consistency to her actions, to the point where it kind of seems like she’s just making random decisions.
Also, not to bring race into things, but actually why was Clare not asian? This movie jumps through so many hoops to make her able to decipher the box, putting her in a Chinese class (everyone knows the cool high schoolers take Latin), and pairing her up with Ryan, whom she barely even knew before then. If she had just been Chinese herself, it would’ve been far more plausible that either she, a family member, or some other close friend would have been able to decode the Box’s message. But then I guess the protagonist wouldn’t have been white, and consequently not as relatable to the kids. Couldn’t have that happening.
Everyone else in the movie falls into one of two categories: Terrible; or nice, but pointless.
[Bitch], [droogs], Meredith, and arguably Clare’s father are all kind of horrible people. [Bitch] (as her name would indicate) is incredibly mean, to the point of being psychotic. She harasses Clare for no real reason, physically harming her on multiple occasions. Her friends, while not as malicious, are extremely vapid and shallow. When they walk in on her discovering her skin disease, they begin to take pictures rather than help (something something teens something something Snapchat). Meredith isn’t much better, which is weird given that it seems like the movie wants us to like her. She’s mean, abrasive, and takes joy in seeing other people suffer. Basically, fuck these characters.
On the other hand, people like Barb, Clare’s neighbor, Ryan, and Gina are all extremely nice and helpful, but lack any kind of depth. I mean, they help Clare out, which is cool I guess, but they don’t really get fleshed out as people. Gina dies in her second scene, Barb barely speaks for the first half of the movie, and Ryan starts and ends basically the same person (albeit alive). Overall, the side characters were not very well-developed.
While most of this movie’s elements are just painfully average, the dialogue is exceptionally bad.
Clare and [bitch]’s fight in the cafeteria begins by [bitch] randomly confronting her and asking what she’s doing (the answer is eating lunch). Clare responds by calling [bitch] “ultimate smegma.” This is a serious insult, reserved by teenagers for only the most savage of clapbacks. Unfortunately, the tension in the situation is defused when [bitch], unfamiliar with this epithet, asks Clare to explain. She proceeds to (and I’m dead serious about this) read the Wikipedia entry for the term “smegma,” out loud, to the eager reception of literally everyone else in the room. Maybe I’m the one that’s out of touch, and kids these days do actually argue by spitting some hot Webster’s dictionary bars at each other, but it definitely seemed weird in context.
At one point, when Clare’s friends are watching her father play saxophone, Barb calls him “ultimate hot sauce,” the implication (if there was any confusion), being that she’s attracted to him. When Clare questions this, Barb clarifies by calling him “like, sriracha hot.” Not only is this creepy af, but as my boi Scott pointed out, sriracha isn’t even very hot hot sauce, so the statement was stupid on two levels. But hey, I guess technically that means the script had some depth to it.
When Clare and Ryan talk for the first time, Ryan says something about an alternate reality, which Clare follows up by suggesting that there may have existed a timeline in which they knew each other better. Ryan, taken aback, asks her if she “digs the multiverse,” because apparently the concept of alternate dimensions is something that one must study extensively before grasping. I’m not really sure what the purpose of this conversation was, but it’s clear that both characters definitely watch Rick and Morty, so that’s pretty cool.
Typically, in a horror movie, every scene (even ones that aren’t necessarily spooky in their own right), has some sort of tension or eerie atmosphere, so that during the actually scary parts, the audience is primed for terror. In Wish Upon, there are a lot of scenes that aren’t really scary (like, the whole movie), but there’s also no atmosphere in them, either. For example, after Clare inherits her uncle’s fat stacks, there’s a five-ish minute montage of her and her friends going on a shopping spree and eating cupcakes. There’s no underlying creepiness here, no sense of doubt or uncertainty. The movie literally turns into a teen Sex and the City episode for some reason. This means that even when the movie tries to do something scary, there’s no build-up, so everything kind of just happens. Basically, the director didn’t understand that horror movies are about more than people dying on screen.
As I see it there are three approaches that this movie could have taken, given its premise:
- The Monkey’s Paw
For those of you unfamiliar with The Monkey’s Paw, it’s a great short story by my mans W. W. Jacobs. In it, an elderly couple receives a taxidermied paw from a friend, which is said to have wish-granting powers. What makes the Monkey’s Paw interesting is its clear cause and effect. For instance, the couple initially wish for money. They receive it, in the form of their son’s life insurance policy, after he dies in a work-related accident. Here, it’s clear that the wish was granted (the couple did get what they asked for), but in arguably the most destructive way possible.
- The Faustian Bargain
The Faustian Bargain, named after Christopher Marlowe’s play (in and of itself based on a German legend), is a scenario in which a character makes a deal with a more powerful entity, generally putting either their life, or their soul, on the line. This is an interesting narrative, as it shows the balance between immediate gain, and eventual consequences. The deal-makers profit in the short term, but the story ends by asking (the audience): at what cost? Or something like that; I’m not a lit major. Miss me with that book shit.
- Final Destination
The Final Destination movies revolve around groups of people who undermine fate by narrowly avoiding a sure-death situation. They’re later killed one-by-one as a way to correct the “mistake” that was made in allowing them to live. The main theme of these movies is like the immutability of destiny or whatever, but their main draw tends to be the intricately violent methods with which they kill off characters. If nothing else, the movies provide a good bit of spectacle for the audience.
Wish Upon tries to do all three of these things, but fails at every one. It sort of starts off Monkey’s Paw-esque, when Clare’s initial wish is interpreted by the Box in a way that puts her school rival in mortal danger, but the concept is quickly abandoned. The Box actually grants Clare pretty much all of her wishes, exactly as she intends them, despite her poor and incredibly vague phrasing. While most of her wishes leave room for a more “evil” execution, the Music Box seems disinterested in mincing words. Instead, it opts for mincing random people (or animals) as a consequence of her wishing for things. This completely dissociates the wish from the outcome, as it makes the results significantly more abstract. Rather than Clare receiving what she wants in an undesirable way, she gets exactly what she wants, but someone just happens to die in the process.
The Faustian Bargain element is also present in the movie, but in a way that undermines the entire point of the scenario. Clare does die at the very end of the film, but it’s relatively meaningless. The entire point of the “Faust” character getting killed/taken by the devil/drafted by the Cleveland Browns, is to demonstrate that they fucked up by making the deal in the first place. At the point in the movie where Clare dies, both she and the audience already know that the Box is bad news, and that she made a mistake by getting involved. The ending serves no purpose other than shock value. (Not gonna lie though, her getting hit by a car was pretty funny).
Because of this, using the Box is strictly the wrong play. Make a wish with ambiguous wording? Someone dies. Make literally any wish at all? Someone dies. Use all your wishes? You die. At least with the other two, it’s plausible that someone in a desperate enough situation would be tempted to go through with it. On top of that, the Box’s actions are incredibly random. It doesn’t really have any rationale for whom or what it goes after. In this sense, it functions as a Serial Killer, just not one that’s really interesting or compelling in any way.
The film would’ve been vindicated if it at least had some visually interesting scenes. It’s clear from the trailer that they tried really hard to do some Final Destination-type shit, but the only time it ever pulled it off was during Sherilyn Fenn’s death scene. (Which, by the way, didn’t actually make sense: throughout most of it, her torso was brushing up against the garbage disposal switch, but when her hair got stuck, it was greater than an arm’s length away. I’m onto you, movie). Every other death scene was incredibly underwhelming or otherwise not particularly inventive. Clare’s uncle dies from slipping and hitting his head on a bathtub. Meredith dies by way of a malfunctioning elevator. On top of that, the characters that did end up dying ranged from very close to Clare (her father), to people she barely knew (Gina). This meant that there wasn’t any emotional weight to most of the deaths, because the characters themselves didn’t matter. At that point, the movie just became a series of poorly thought out wishes, intercut with scenes of randos dying in stupid fucking ways. If I wanted to see a bunch of people I didn’t care about get slaughtered, I’d just watch a Browns game (sorry Browns).
The camera work was flat, and boring. The visual effects were flat, and boring. The production design was flat, and boring. Shot composition was flat, and boring. 10/10.
If PG-13 “horror,” angled at teenagers wasn’t bad enough, the movie also felt the need to throw in stupid indie pop songs constantly. Death Note pulled the same shit, but at least in that movie the 80’s rock was a e s t h e t i c. Here, it wasn’t related to anything and completely undercut any tension or atmosphere that the movie was building up (however limited). There wasn’t even a theme; the editor just accidentally imported his spotify playlist to premiere. It was like the director didn’t realize you could start a scene without playing a song over it. I mean, in the grander scheme of this movie it doesn’t really matter, but god damn did it get annoying.
This movie has an appropriate title, as it’s something I would not Wish Upon my worst enemy. I would wish that this movie didn’t exist, but then my neighbor’s brother’s best friend’s third cousin might die, and I don’t think I could live with myself if that happened.
Good for: Blumhouse’s continued dominance in the horror genre
Bad for: Most audience members, my wrists after writing this review
Bod R8s: 2.2/8
Excellent review. What “Smegma” this movie was indeed. I do love the reference to when Icarus flew too high up the draft board and got drafted by the Cleveland Browns, a nice touch if I do say so.