There are many reasons teenager Clare Shannon (played by Joey King) doesn’t want her dad to rummage around in garbage cans.
A couple are obvious: It’s not hygienic, and it’s hard to explain to your classmates when Dad (Ryan Phillippe) forages through the dumpsters across the street from school. He’s collecting stuff to re-sell, but still.
Turns out there’s another unwelcome side effect to this habit. One day Clare’s father finds a mysterious Chinese music box in the trash, and gives it to his daughter as a present.
The box, the central plot device in “Wish Upon,” has some ancient Chinese characters written on it. Now, you or I might say to ourselves, “Hey, I think I’ll get those characters translated before I put the box in a bear-hug and utter wishes out loud that could affect the survival of the people in my vicinity.”
Clare does not do this. So while she starts getting some rad wishes granted, like a sudden inheritance and a new boyfriend, she also notices acquaintances dropping dead.
“Wish Upon” is a horror movie with a creaky old gimmick. Barbara Marshall’s screenplay looks back to ‘80s horror flicks that devised elaborate ways for victims to die.
This means that whenever somebody steps into an elevator or fills a bathtub, we sit back and wait to see how the gruesomeness will go down.
And when Clare’s neighbor (Sherilyn Fenn, taking a break from “Twin Peaks”) lets her ponytail dangle near the kitchen sink disposal, well, you can imagine the fun to be had.
Director John R. Leonetti turns that sequence into a little symphony of hyped-up suspense that owes something to the “Final Destination” pictures. However, because he has to keep the horror PG-13 rated, there’s a certain amount of discretion when it comes to these killings.
Meanwhile, we spend time with Clare and her generic high-school pals, and maybe spare a thought wondering what happened to Ryan Phillippe’s career. Joey King, recently of “Going in Style” and “Independence Day: Resurgence,” makes a plucky but slightly unbalanced heroine, and Ki Hong Lee (from the “Maze Runner” movies) is agreeable as a would-be suitor.
The usual idiotic decision-making is on display: Clare sees a stalker outside her bedroom window and immediately runs outside in his direction. When her dog disappears she happily scuttles into the crawlspace under the family home. Why? Because in this kind of movie, that’s just a great idea.
“Wish Upon” (1½ stars)
A dumbly generic horror flick about an ancient Chinese music box that grants wishes to its owner, but exacts a terrible price in blood. Joey King plays the high-schooler who makes the mistake of asking for wealth and a new boyfriend, with the usual gruesome results.
Rating: PG-13, for violence
Opening Friday: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Meridian, Thornton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Cascade Mall,