By Lois Kennedy
Director: John R. Leonetti
Cast: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Sherilyn Fenn
Clare is an average teenage girl with a loving father and good friends. However, she’s dissatisfied with her typical teenage girl problems like yearning to be popular and noticed by her crush. One day her dad (who supports the family by dumpster diving), finds a box in a cemetery junk pile. (He then promptly plops it on her bed–ew.) She figures out that the box will grant her seven wishes, but they come with a terrible price–a blood price.
I found the characters very likable (except the mean kids at Clare’s school–they’re a bit overdone in their villainy). The performances are good; Joey King works it as Clare, and Ryan Phillippe is great as the kind but sad and grizzled father (though I can’t picture him as being old enough to have teenage children–probably because I haven’t seen anything of his since the late ’90s). The cast is somewhat diverse, in terms of race and even a character or two that could be read as gay (though the main characters are white and heterosexual, natch).
The movie features a lot of humor, in a sly rather than blatant way, mostly at the expense of how teens can be shallow, cruel, and glued to their social media. One of the guys who antagonizes Clare, Tyler, is constantly on his phone, and in one scene he’s seen sleeping with it in his hand. Or the scene when Darcie, the meanest meanie, becomes the target of Clare’s wrath when Clare wishes she would “just go rot.” While Darcie discovers that her legs and feet are practically falling off, she whispers “Oh my God,” but not until she notices that her face has a blotch does she scream in horror.
Also commendable is that while some aspects of the movie are a bit predictable, there are some really surprising moments. During the opening, the movie goes where horror movies often go these days: with throwaway characters encountering the big bad to show how it works. I had an idea of what I thought would happen, and I was totally wrong! How delightful! This sleight of hand even works a couple more times! Also, the filmmakers do a good job of building suspense throughout. It’s PG-13, so there’s not a lot of gore, but there are definitely some disturbing scenes. It doesn’t rely much on jump scares, but the ones used aren’t fake-outs–actual bad stuff is happening.
I have gripes, of course. Mostly with Clare’s occasional oddly unfeeling reactions to characters’ deaths, and her tendency to go on making wishes even after someone dies every time she does so. Or the scene when her friend Ryan is furious at her, telling her he wishes he never met her, but the next day he’s back and ready to kiss her. Also, I’m always incredulous at how Hollywood depicts poverty; Clare’s family is “poor,” which means that Clare has to ride a bike to school and they have only a two-story house in suburbia (which is littered with trash on the outside but clean and tastefully appointed on the inside).
I saw it with my sister, my brother-in-law, my husband, and my best friend, and we had a blast!
It’s solidly written but has moments of unintentional silliness; I recommend seeing it with movie-watching buddies who will point and laugh with you but also admire what’s done skillfully.