If horror movie characters were smart, the entire genre would collapse. No one would explore that abandoned asylum or play with that Ouija board or party in the backwoods. Whatever hides in the shadows depends on someone being dumb enough to look for it.
In “Wish Upon,” that someone is Clare (Joey King), a teenager whose father (Ryan Phillippe) finds an antique Chinese box while dumpster diving in front of a mansion. When she figures out the box grants seven wishes, Clare gives it a try, with gruesome results.
This would be enough to inspire caution in most people, but Clare is going for Idiot Plot immortality. By the fourth wish, she’s basically a serial killer, fully aware that her actions endanger everyone around her. Even when she learns the true consequences of the box’s power — including a possible connection to her own mother’s suicide — Clare just won’t give it up.
It’s impossible sympathize with a character like this, and the story might be effective if Clare just went all-in to the dark side and owned it. Instead, Barbara Marshall’s script has her apologizing and trying to fix things, all of it too little, too late.
“Wish Upon” stands apart for its use of Chinese folklore to explain the box, but that’s the only glimmer of originality to be found. King was in James Wan’s (much, much better) “The Conjuring,” and director John R. Leonetti handled its first spinoff, “Annabelle,” which illustrates the importance of hiring people who know what they’re doing.
Wan made even the sillier elements of “The Conjuring” scary through creative pacing and a concern for the characters. By contrast, Leonetti offers no suspense or surprises and can’t get a decent performance out of anyone. King alternates between pouting and hysterics, while more experienced actors like Phillippe and Sherilyn Fenn just look bored.
After 90 minutes of stupid choices, in front of and behind the camera, you’ll know exactly how they feel.
Read more of freelancer Loey Lockerby’s reviews at suchacritic.com.
Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language.