Out in theaters now is John R. Leonetti’s teen-centric horror film, Wish Upon, which is centered around a teenage girl named Clare (Joey King), who is gifted a magical music box that can grant the owner seven wishes, but for each wish Clare makes, someone else will suffer the consequences of her good fortune.
Daily Dead recently caught up with Leonetti to discuss his latest directorial endeavor, and during our interview he discussed re-teaming with Wish Upon’s protagonist after they previously worked together on The Conjuring, his experiences collaborating with the rest of his cast and crew, and whether or not there’s been any thought given to a potential sequel.
Leonetti, who is keenly aware of the challenges that come with helming a PG-13-rated horror movie, also chatted about how he worked within the confines of the restrictive rating for Wish Upon, and confirmed that an R-rated cut of the film does exist and will be available once the movie makes its way to DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD later this year.
Congrats on the film, John. I really enjoyed it and I loved following the character of Clare through this story, because she's the girl we fall in love with her very early on in this film, but as things keep spiraling out of control with her wishing and everything like that, things get a little muddled with her character, almost to the point of frustration. But I think that's the earmark of a good character, because things aren’t just black and white with her, and that conflict means we’re invested in Clare as a character.
John R. Leonetti: You know what? That is brilliant that you say that. And I think that, first of all, having Joey King as this character has a lot to do with how well that happened. I love her. She was my first choice, and I am so thankful that she is Clare, number one. Number two, it’s the layers of Clare's character. As you peel back the layers of what makes her up—her psyche, her soul, her decision-making process, it all starts when you see her as a little girl, because she's just this bubbly little thing that gets the rug pulled right out from under her. And that sets the stage for layers of angst, and then throw that in amongst dealing with high school, and the bullying, and all that goes with it.
To me, the box is kind of like a drug, and it's deceptive. At first, she has no clue, it's all a joke. And then it's like, “This probably isn't correlated, so dang it, I'm just going to make another wish." And then, by the time she realizes that it really is affecting the people around her, it's like heroin, she's addicted. So when she tries to shake it, it’s really hard, and I think that sends her character on an arc that the audience can relate to on some level, and want to follow, I hope.
I know that you worked with Joey prior to this on The Conjuring, and I was wondering if there was something in particular you recognized from her work in that film, where you knew she’d be perfect for Clare in this project? I also thought her chemistry with Shannon [Purser] and Sydney [Park] was great, too—the three of them had an infectious chemistry between them.
John R. Leonetti: They were. And back to The Conjuring for a moment. I will never forget, there was this scene when she's asleep and the demon jerks her ankle, and she sits up and she looks in that black corner near the door and pointing that something is there. But all you can see is blackness. Her performance there mesmerized me. I'll never forget it. And I said to my wife at the time, “This girl is going places.” So, that was the beginning to this, number one.
Number two, Shannon and Sydney were perfect to be her bud-ettes, as I called them. Sydney is truly a great actress and she’s very funny. Some of the stuff that's in the movie, she would just spontaneously say because of her understanding of Meredith's character. With Shannon, I had just seen Stranger Things, and I just randomly thought about June. And she kind of plays a similar character here, that nurturing kind of friend, and it just hit me. I tell you, we scored with the three of them together. I agree.
I've been a horror fan my entire life, and something I think is really unfortunate is that it seems like PG-13 horror movies tend to get bagged on a lot, even though there are some really great horror movies that aren't R-rated. I was curious whether or not you realized going into this project that it would be something of a challenge because of how fans might initially react to hearing the rating, or did you just embrace the challenge and push it as far as you could?
John R. Leonetti: It was both. It was a hurdle, and we ultimately embraced it. Look, when we could, we would shoot two versions—an R and a PG-13 version—of each of the kill scenarios. We couldn't every time just because of scheduling circumstances, and it's not a big-budget movie, so we didn't have a ton of money to be trying shit. But we pushed things when we could.
But, Gabriel Hammond, the gentleman that is head of Broad Green [Pictures], really wanted it to be PG-13, and I knew that. Look, I think it's a fine line, and it is a challenge, there is no question. But, there is an unrated version, like a director’s cut, that will be on the DVD, the Blu-ray, or on VOD, and that version takes the killings, the death scenes, even further. They are even more intense.
But the movie version that exists now is searing and intense and thrilling enough, I think. I wanted to make sure we delivered enough horror moments to satisfy horror audiences if they choose to see it.
I don't want to go into too much in terms of how everything comes together at the end. But, have you and Barbara [Marshall, the screenwriter] talked about where things may go if things go well with this release? I do think there's a potential [for a franchise]. Obviously with the box and stuff, it could almost be like Hellraiser for teenagers.
John R. Leonetti: Everything you said is accurate, 100 percent. You nailed all the dynamics of it. Yes. If it does well enough, there's definitely going to be a discussion about another one, I would think. That being said, you know there are different ways you can go, like you also said. There’s the obvious path, with what we set up in the post-credits scene, but I'm not saying that's the path we are going to go down, either.
But, honestly, nothing has really been said at this point. But, the good news is what you said, which is, you could go anywhere with this concept, and that's kind of fun. As long as it has the layers of character to it, and has that kind of relatability that Barbara Marshall was able to infuse in this script, then it's all worth doing again. But that’s my opinion.
To read Heather's review of Wish Upon and to watch her video interviews with the cast, check here.