A long hallway. A feeling of dread. The door slowly swings open and … the bell rings. Time to get to homeroom.
The key narrative in “Wish Upon,” in theaters Friday, concerns the grim unintended consequences magic wishes confer, but deals with another sort of horror story, too. High school.
Thus do we see central character Clare, played by Joey King, getting doused by mean-girl bullies on the way to class or agonizing at the sight of her crush and his girlfriend cooing at each along a bank of lockers, long before the major scream scenes arrive.
Shannon Purser and Sydney Park, who play Clare’s loyal besties June and Meredith, were in Atlanta this week on a promotional tour. Here’s the trailer:
“I’ve loved scary movies since I was a little,” said Purser, an Atlanta native who made her acting debut in the role of ill-fated yet fan favorite Barb in “Stranger Things.” (“Don’t leave your friend alone in a pool,” she deadpanned, alluding to poor Barb’s farewell. “It’s a jerk move.” The locally filmed Netflix hit just scooped up 18 Emmy nominations.)
Park has also worked locally, in some episodes of “The Walking Dead.” She played Cyndie, one of the Oceanside encampment survivors.
“‘The Walking Dead’ has been a show my family and I have loved for years,” Park said. “To get the audition and then book job, that was so crazy to me.”
They were excited to work with “Wish Upon” director John R. Leonetti, who was director of photography for the 2013 horror film “The Conjuring” and directed its 2014 prequel “Annabelle.”
“Dolls terrify me,” Purser mused, referring to the demonically possessed toy featured in “The Conjuring” and “Annabelle.”
The haunted object in “Wish Upon,” is an ornate box that Clare’s Dumpster-diving father (played by Ryan Phillippe) finds and brings home. It’s a rare happy moment the grieving widower achieves in the years since his wife’s tragic death.
Because she’s a bright student excelling in her Chinese language class, Clare is able to translate enough of the characters to suss out that the box grants wishes. But because she isn’t enough of a scholar, Clare isn’t able to read the entire message and starts wishing merrily away, unaware of all she’s about to unleash and not at all careful about what she wishes for.
Enter Meredith and June, who try to get a handle on things.
“Meredith is definitely a friend I wish I had,” Park said of her headstrong, blunt-speaking character. “She is so brutally honest. I can relate to Meredith because we’re both super sassy.”
Purser is proud of her character’s strong moral core.
“June is the mom of the group,” she said. “That meant a lot to me personally.”
“Wish Upon” has been compared to “Final Destination,” a 2000 teen film with lots of tragic supernatural plot twists. A key difference is the role social media plays in “Wish Upon.”
Before the magic box starts wreaking havoc, digital devices become weapons in the hands of Clare, June and Meredith’s haughty, self-absorbed classmates. With its PG-13 rating, “Wish Upon” delivers mostly chills buffeted by lots of comic relief, including a fight that breaks out in a crowded cafeteria at one point. Naturally, instead of trying to intervene lest anyone get hurt, students all whip out their phones to capture the drama.
“Social media is almost a character in itself,” Park said.
Added Purser: “A common trope in horror movies is having a malicious character behind a mask. Social media is our mask.”