What to make of the curious, ridiculous horror-lite “Wish Upon”? This is a spooky teen story that's not particularly heavy on the scares and over-delivers on the unintentional giggles, almost ensuring it a spot as a cult movie, like the hilariously misguided “The Room,” though “Wish Upon” sports a far bigger budget and higher-profile names among the cast and crew.
Written by Barbara Marshall and directed by “Annabelle” helmer John R. Leonetti, “Wish Upon” plays on the haunted object premise, with a mysterious Chinese wish box wreaking havoc on the life of Clare (Joey King), who can't stop making wishes, even as her loved ones drop dead around her.
Young Clare has had a hard life. Her mother (Elizabeth Rohm), as we see in a prologue, committed suicide, and things haven't been easy since then. Her dad (Ryan Phillippe) dumpster dives for scrap metal, and Clare is a bit of a misfit at school, a target of violent, crazy outbursts from the local mean girl (a truly epic cafeteria catfight goes down in the first 15 minutes). When dad brings home a dumpster treasure — a mysterious box engraved with Chinese characters — Clare facetiously uses it to wish ill upon her enemy.
And that wish comes true, gruesomely. So Clare keeps wishing for things like popularity, love and money. Later, she claims that she just wanted to feel “normal,” though it's unclear how she wasn't normal before, and how suddenly becoming a wealthy, popular girl overnight somehow is “normal.” By the time Clare gets the ancient Chinese characters translated, the box has turned her into its Gollum.
“Wish Upon” is an odd horror film, because the monster is also our heroine. It's not like the box itself is all that terrifying or compelling; the worst thing is how it transforms its owners. So even though Clare willingly puts her friends and family in fatal danger because she wants to keep making out with the popular guy, we’re expected to keep rooting for her.
“Wish Upon” isn't over-the-top wacky or campy, and in fact, feels slightly low-energy, but it's the kind of simple filmmaking coupled with absolutely insane writing and plot points that make it an ideal candidate for so-bad-it's-good viewing.
There are so many opportunities for midnight movie audience interaction too — bizarre and strange little motifs practically screaming out for a handful of popcorn to be thrown at the screen. Clare wishes her dad was less embarrassing, and he starts playing sweet, sweet sax solos around the house. What?
There's a ghastly unfinished painting of a woman's head on a surreal green landscape that appears in the background of Clare's bedroom and is beyond distracting. And every line uttered by Paul (Mitchell Slaggert), the dum-dum popular guy, from “haters gonna hate” to “I was trying to think of something dope to say before I kissed you,” deserves the chant-a-long treatment.
“Wish Upon” is a harmless, defanged horror flick for the younger set. It's never all that scary, but it is pretty darn funny — a curio to be enjoyed for its silliness more than anything else.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Rating: PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: In general release