While the exact details may vary, the genie-in-a-lamp trope is one that has proven difficult to adapt into a fresh and original movie. In Wish Upon, Clare Shannon (Joey King) finds out firsthand that nothing comes without a price—not even when it seems as simple as rubbing an ancient Chinese music box and willing her greatest desires into reality. While she reaps the benefits of the music box, an early birthday gift from her father (Ryan Phillippe), her friends and family are left to deal with the repercussions of a malevolent and faceless demon with a backwards sense of karma.
Clare is still traumatized by a moment from her childhood when she witnessed her mother commit suicide, and her current life as a bullied teen is full of relationships and situations that leave something to be desired. Whether it’s her gorgeous classmate Darcie Chapman (Josephine Langford) putting a damper on her high school-experience, or the fact that she lives in a dilapidated house filled with the fruits of her father’s garbage-picking habits, Clare is eager to embrace wishful thinking when she translates a series of symbols that hint at the mysterious music box’s magical abilities. Before she’s able to make the connection between her wishes being granted and a string of bizarre deaths in her community, she falls under the box’s spell and can’t stop herself from constantly making improvements to her life. It’s nearly too late by the time she realizes that some things really are too good to be true, forcing her to take action to save her loved ones.
The overarching theme of karma is depicted in such an extreme manner that the plot doesn’t leave much room for surprise, as every shallow (yet understandable) wish that Clare makes immediately results in tragedy for someone else. What is interesting about the filmmakers’ choice to rehash such a familiar story line is the way that karma is turned around here—rather than using its inevitability as a response to something bad happening to the main character, it is only after she experiences a stroke of luck that other people are forced to retroactively pay the price for her good fortune. The fact that each victim is in some way connected to her own life underlines the cyclical nature of this theme, as Clare confronts the ugly side of her newfound happiness.
Besides the lack of an original story, there are also multiple plot holes and inconsistencies that make one question the way events play out. The movie never really explains the extent of the box’s dangerous power, which ends up being confusing and undermines what should be a straightforward relationship of cause-and-effect. Likewise, an attempt to bring the story full circle by suggesting that the same box was responsible for tragedies in the past is an unnecessary stretch. Ultimately, Wish Upon will leave viewers with a familiar taste in their mouths and a healthy reminder to be careful what you wish for.