Wish You Were Here

Horror movies are experiencing a renaissance of late. It was a slow climb up this mountain, after years of living in a landscape that seemed content to produce sequel after sequel of Saw movies. Or, even worse, tarnish the reputation of better films by creating remakes stripped of any of the personality that made the originals so enjoyable in the first place. Now it seems like every year brings another collection of prestige horror over which both mainstream audiences and aficionados clamor.

From The Babadook and The VVitch to Hereditary and Get Out, this new breed of horror film replaces the jump scares of the teen-scream scene with building tension and a renewed sense of social commentary—both explicit and understated. So what happens when one of the creators of the Final Destination franchise decides to try his hand in this new era of horror? The Final Wish seems to be the answer.

No matter your feelings on the actual movie or what the franchise became, the first Final Destination film actually had a rather interesting idea propelling it forward. This was thanks to screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick. Eighteen years on, Reddick has teamed up with director Timothy Woodward Jr. to bring his latest vision to life, but with some mixed results.

Aaron (Michael Welch) is a struggling attorney failing to make his way in Chicago. Moments after being evicted, he receives a phone call that his father has passed away and that he’s needed back home in rural Jackson, Ohio, to help his grieving mother Kate (Lin Shaye). We are quickly introduced to all of the supporting players back-to-back as Aaron tries to unload his father’s old knickknacks in a yard sale.

One of the items happens to be an urn that the audience will quickly be able to decipher is cursed with the spirit of a djinn. Maybe I watched Wes Craven’s Wishmaster one too many times, but I love the idea of a djinn as an antagonist. Reddick and Woodward do a great job at building up the evil as more of a presence than a physical monster. The djinn takes advantage of Aaron’s loose lips to become ever-more powerful, and it makes his wishes come true in the most horrible ways possible.

Welch’s Aaron is likable enough, but the movie wants to tell us how self-centered and careless he is through long information dumps, usually presented by a character yelling at him. The build-up to this battlement, however, never actually happens. Aaron will just sort of show up and a character yells at him for past transgressions, never made fully clear, even by the end of the film.

This makes for a tonally choppy movie. There are times when it wants to lean into the sort of teen horror film that helped make Reddick’s career; at other times, the movie wants to be a meditation on regret. Neither side of this tug of war truly wins, which makes it hard to fully invest in anything happening on the screen.

Director Woodward, on the other hand, succeeds in doing something that many of these newer horror films seem scared to do: saturate the screen with color. Among my biggest gripes with the current crop of horror films are their washed-out, drab colors. Even the recent Suspiria remake was dominated by a depressing swash of rust—the original was arguably the most colorfully vivid horror film ever made.

The Final Wish does not have that problem. Playful blue and red lighting is brought into almost every scene, while color saturation levels are cranked all the way up to give almost every shot a visual pop that draws your eyes right to the screen. Even if you don’t always care about the action, you can’t help but bask in the color palette, a throwback to mid-’80s classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II and Return of the Living Dead.

So where does that leave The Final Wish? With its lack of major suspense and character development (not to mention a relatively minimal body count), you might end up feeling a bit unfulfilled. Still, the action moves along swiftly, if not a little disjointedly, and the film is always visually engaging. It almost feels like an attempt to make a prestige horror film for those who get a bit bogged down in the plotting of its more successful counterparts. If that sounds like you, then this just might make for the perfect date night.