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Wish Upon (2017)

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Starring Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Sherilyn Fenn, Ki Hong Lee, Sydney Park, Shannon Purser, Elisabeth Rohm

Directed by John R. Leonetti


Much has been written about the current state of horror cinema of late. Let me assure you that Wish Upon is indeed post-horror in the sense that it is a horror movie that is dumb as a post.

I have been joking for months that Wish Upon looks like a lost Trimark Pictures production from the early Nineties that someone dug out of mothballs and decided to release in 2017. My joke was not that far off the mark.  It does not look, feel, or unfold like a modern horror movie from this age of Blumhouse. Wish Upon is very retro Nineties, almost charmingly so. It’s a throwback to the era of such enjoyable though not particularly scary direct-to-video flicks as Mirror, Mirror and Amityville 1992: It’s About Time. That’s actually one of its few redeeming qualities. That and it’s one of the funniest damn films of 2017 even though it not meant to be a comedy. I can almost see this one becoming a minor camp classic in the future.

From the director of Annabelle (because nobody in their right mind would show up if it was billed as “From the Director of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation), Wish Upon is the Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice special needs cinematic lovechild of Wishmaster and Final Destination. If you’re looking to be scared, look elsewhere. Wish Upon makes The Bye Bye Man look like The Babadook.

Word is most of the bloody deaths were trimmed to make the movie PG-13. I fully understand why this was done because it makes absolutely no sense to release an R-rated movie that appears to have been written specifically for 12-year-olds that have never seen an actual horror movie before. If the gore had been left in, the editing of the death scenes might have been more coherent; but even that’s not a given considering how much of this movie feels like a cut-and-paste project. Hard to figure out how much of the nonsense stems from the wonky editing, botched storytelling, or hapless direction.

This thing is so ineptly assembled a character slits his wrist and gets taken away by authorities, only to be shown in school the very next day no worse for wear and with no mention of the incident by anyone.

Additional blood and guts would not make this movie better. Nothing would make this movie better. You know why the girl on the poster is in that pose of absolute despair? She’s seen her own movie. And she’s probably covering her face to hide all the giggling she’s doing.

  • Dream sequence jump scares and automatic garbage disposal kills in 2017? Who says you can never go home again?
  • Like your horror movie characters to be so generic they come across like caricatures of stereotypes? You’re in for a treat.
  • Logic? Where we’re going we don’t need logic.

Wish Upon opens with a flashback to the day young Clare’s mother (Rohm) committed suicide for reasons that barely matter in the long run. Flash forward a decade later… Clare (King) is now a bullied teenager, her home is in shambles, and her now-rusted pink kiddy bicycle still rests in the exact same spot on her lawn.

Ryan Phillippe is her merchant seaman-looking, Fred Sanford garbage-collecting, saxophone-playing total embarrassment of a father. He gifts her with the “Hellraiser Puzzle Box for Dummies” he finds in the trash outside a house with a Chinese demon statue on the front gate. Subtle.

If you hold the box and make a wish, that wish will come true almost immediately; but shortly thereafter it will open up, play some music, and by the time it’s done, someone you know will perish. Lose or get rid of the box, and all your wishes will reverse themselves. Make seven wishes, and the box will come to claim you. Sometimes even the good wishes go bad. So, in all honesty, there’s really no incentive for anyone to ever use this thing unless that person is an idiot.

Clare is such an idiot.

I genuinely felt bad for Joey King being stuck playing what has to be one of the stupidest female protagonists I have ever seen in a horror movie. Typically with this type of horror movie scenario, the main character either quickly realizes the error of their ways and works to undo the carnage they’ve started, or they themselves begin developing a dark side the more they benefit from the evil. This movie can’t even get that much right, going in both directions at times before changing its mind and seemingly forgetting it ever went in the previous direction. Neither all that remorseful nor purposefully evil, Clare – and her perpetual case of resting derp face – has to continuously act clueless and surprised by both the good and bad things happening to her, quite obviously, via the use of her own sinister device – even after she knows what it can do and what the dangers are.

What’s that? You have a cursed music box? You know your wishes will result in someone’s death? You only have so many wishes before you yourself will face the music? I wish for my dad to be less of an embarrassment. Not since Homer Simpson wasted a monkey’s paw wish on a turkey sandwich…

Clare wishes for revenge on her bully. An estranged rich uncle we’ve barely seen or heard about before dies under ridiculous circumstances. Upon hearing this news, she then wishes for that uncle to leave everything to her in his will. By what seems like the end of that same day, she and dad will already be moving into a mansion across town. On the plus side, their newfound wealth finally also allows dad to afford a razor so he can shave.

Another wish is for the hottest guy in school, a boy she longs for to the point of endlessly staring at him in class and practically cyberstalking him at home, to fall “madly” in love with her. He does, only for her to then initially blow off his romantic advances. WTF!?

She wishes to become the most popular girl in her school. And she does, except for her two actual best friends, both of whom treat her with such a level of disdain for being selfish that it leaves you wondering why the magic doesn’t apply to them.

Characters that behave inconsistently and a demonic device with a specific set of rules attached to it that are equally inconsistent: pretty much sums up the movie.

Clare’s two best friends are Meredith and June (Park and Purser, respectively). To give you a prime example of how flimsy the characters are, Meredith’s only defining characteristic is that she’s a gamer addicted to a Pokemon Go-esque zombie-killing iPhone game, which is more than can be said of June, a non-entity defined only by the fact that she exists. Though, there is one oddball moment when June admonishes Clare for using the wishing box because, as she exclaims loudly, “I have two little sisters,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

For the record, Pokemon Go was a huge fad for about a month or two last October. By that math, the first fidget spinner death should occur in a horror movie sometime next spring.

Almost all of the kills are of the Final Destination suspenseful set-up building to a fake-out before delivering the actual kill variety. Only problem is you’re more likely to end up screaming with laughter. Dad fixing a tire on a dimly lit night road when two Fast & Furious street racers come roaring by from out of nowhere, nearly running him over is just one of the many corny attempts at jump scares more likely to make your snicker than shudder.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, tops the hysterical, laugh-out-loud final moment of the movie, a scene clearly intended to be shockingly ironic; yet, it only succeeded in causing myself and the half-dozen other people in the theater to explode with laughter. People were still laughing about it in the hallway on the way out of the theater.

Zero stars for actual horror.

Four stars for the lulz.

Gonna have to also penalize the movie for its lack of James Hong. As long as that man lives and breathes, you cannot make a horror movie involving Chinese curses without having James Hong in it somewhere. There are two Chinese-American characters in this film. Surely, one of them could have had a grandfather.

Since my math is as loopy as the movie itself, let’s just call this an even two stars.

Wish Upon falls into that illustrious category of being completely watchable while still being complete and utter crap. ”Wish in one hand, crap in the other. See which gets filled up first!” should have been the film’s tagline.

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User Rating 3 (5 votes)
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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product

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DesolationStarring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols

Directed by Sam Patton


I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.

The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.

So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”

As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.

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2.5

Summary

Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.

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User Rating 3.29 (7 votes)
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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political

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Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside

Directed by Eitan Gafny

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.

Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.

Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.

The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.

The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.

So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.

Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.

The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.

Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.

  • Children of the Fall
2.5

Summary

While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.

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User Rating 3.16 (19 votes)
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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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User Rating 3.67 (18 votes)
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