Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen - KIM NEW­MAN

DI­REC­TOR John R. Leonetti

CAST Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee

PLOT Mis­fit teenager Claire (Joey King) is given a su­per­nat­u­ral Chi­nese mu­sic box by her scav­enger fa­ther (Ryan Phillipe). She dis­cov­ers it has the power to grant seven wishes — though her good for­tune must be paid for in some­one else’s blood. AF­TER A SET-UP

es­tab­lish­ing that high schooler Claire (Joey King) has had a blighted life since the sui­cide of her mother (Elis­a­beth Rohm), she clutches a magic ob­ject (a nice­ly­de­signed Chi­nese puz­zle/mu­sic box) and wishes the mean girl at school would ‘just rot’. The next day, teen princess of In­sta­gram Dar­cie

(Josephine Lang­ford) wakes up with her face and toes fall­ing off due to necro­tis­ing fasci­itis. Then Claire’s beloved dog is found in the crawlspace, dis­em­bow­elled and eaten by rats.

Nev­er­the­less, it takes sev­eral more wishes — a de­voted boyfriend! a man­sion! pop­u­lar­ity! — and­f­reak ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing sym­pa­thetic sec­ondary char­ac­ters and kitchen/bath­room/loft ap­pli­ances be­fore Claire works out how this par­tic­u­lar dou­ble-edged curse works. It’s as if all those valiant souls who make non-the­atri­cal sequels to Hell­raiser, Witch­board and

Wish­mas­ter have striven in vain. Among those who have is­sued warn­ings about mon­key­ing with mon­keys’ paws or mess­ing with mul­ti­verses is di­rec­tor John R. Leonetti, who has track records in the be-care­ful-what-you-wish-for and cursed-ob­ject fields, with The But­ter­fly Ef­fect 2 and Con­jur­ing spinoff Annabelle.

Scripted by Bar­bara Mar­shall — who wrote Vi­ral and Top Dog— Wish Upon has the feel of some­thing tooled to be a new fran­chise. It ties it­self in knots with sev­eral back­sto­ries for its curse, as if it were the fol­low-up to a movie star­ring barely-glimpsed Jerry O’con­nell and Rebecca Romijn as pre­vi­ous doomed own­ers of the wish­ing box, as well as the tem­plate for sequels and spin-offs of its own. Wish Upon is one among a re­cent wave of spooky pic­tures aimed at teenage girls, in­clud­ing Ouija, Un­friended and Friend Re­quest. This adds a shop­ping mon­tage, an id­iot bloke as ogled ob­ject of de­sire (Mitchell Slag­gert) and the high school peck­ing or­der to a mix which in­cludes fa­mil­iar, al­ways-ef­fec­tive hor­ror schtick as char­ac­ters blithely wan­der into mor­tal peril. In one set-piece, Sher­i­lyn Fenn finds as many ways of im­per­illing her­self while cook­ing dinner as in any vin­tage safety-in-the-home ed­u­ca­tional film.

Though a jumble — the story is at once pre­dictable and awk­wardly struc­tured — Wish Upon works fairly well, and is cer­tainly a step up from Leonetti’s last non-se­quel (the Man­son mur­ders movie Wolves At The Door). King is an en­gag­ing, cred­i­bly fal­li­ble lead and has a nice rap­port with her besties (Shan­non Purser from Stranger Things, Syd­ney Park) and the re­li­able Ryan Philippe does won­ders with an un­der­writ­ten dead­beat dad role. Mean­while Alice Lee is so much fun as an ex­po­si­tion-spout­ing Chi­nese goth chick, you hope the spinoff will be all about her.

From a school where two girls can re-en­act the al­ley­way scene from They Live at lunchtime with no dis­ci­plinary con­se­quences, to a lit­tle girl’s bike left to rot where she dropped it the day her Mum died, you have to be able to live with a raft of un­be­liev­able things. And that’s be­fore get­ting to the in­tri­cate curse, which im­plies a cos­mic or­der more to do with hor­ror film cliché than any sys­tem of de­monology you can look up on the in­ter­net. Half-smart and half-dumb, this does get by, but only thanks to daft en­ter­tain­ment value and some com­mit­ted per­for­mances.

VER­DICT A lit­tle ret­i­cent in gore gim­micks for the Final Des­ti­na­tion crowd, but con­sid­ered as a mid­dle school be­tween Goose­bumps and Clive Barker, it’s just the haunted lottery ticket.

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