The “Final Destination” franchise mastered a jittery kind of death scene with a bait-and-switch flair. Horror fans know the drill: That dude in the bathroom is going to kill himself with those nose-hair clippers! No, wait, he’s going to get electrocuted because of the water on the floor! And, of course, he ends up strangling himself on an indoor clothes line, to the ghoulish delight of the audience.
The makers of “Wish Upon” must love the “Final Destination” films, because they perfectly mimic the style, which is alternately nerve-wracking and slightly silly. Silly, as in, “Gosh, why is that lady sticking her hand down a garbage disposal?” And nerve-wracking because you’re waiting for things to go splat!, even if you’re not quite sure how it will happen.
There’s a lot of splat! in “Wish Upon,” even if it’s not wildly graphic; we’re in PG-13 territory, after all. The plot centers around Clare, a misfit teen who winds up in possession of an eight-sided Chinese music box. She understands enough of the language to figure out from the inscription that it will grant the owner seven wishes; she misses the part about how blood will be spilled once your desire becomes reality.
Soon, she gains popularity, a massive new house and a cute boyfriend, but doesn’t notice the ever-increasing body count that surrounds her. Once she is clued in to what’s going on, she is torn: She enjoys being one of the cool kids and isn’t sure she can give that up. It’s perhaps the most compelling aspect of the film, which is directed by John R. Leonetti (‘“Annabelle”).
Playing Clare, talented teen actress Joey King (“White House Down,” “The Conjuring”) hits the right blend of desperation and increasing hysteria, and her growing dependence on the box is suitably disturbing. She’s a somewhat nice kid who is in over her head. You say “somewhat,” because, after all, she doesn’t exactly appear grief-stricken once the local mortuary business is suddenly gangbusters.
The film’s tone is daffy and schizophrenic, veering from horror-movie chills to the catty shenanigans of “Mean Girls.” It’s a bit off-putting; off the top of my head, I can’t think of another fright film with a cheerful scene devoted to purse shopping. We’re not talking a skillful blend of horror and comedy a la “Shaun of the Dead”; it’s more like the director can’t settle on a style, so the movie never feels entirely cohesive.
Logically, the plot is also off-kilter. The music box destroys not only Clare’s loved ones, but a new acquaintance and even a family pet. You’d think the rules involving killer music boxes would be more defined, you know? Still, you don’t go to a movie like this for logic; it’s all about anxiously wondering if a character will be crushed under a car or disemboweled by an elevator.
Randy Cordova, USA TODAY Network
Broad Green Pictures presents a film directed by John R. Leonetti and written by Barbara Marshall. Rated PG-13 (for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language). Running time: 89 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.