Last night The Final Wish, a new film from director Timothy Woodward, Jr. (Gangster Land) had a special one night only screening via Fathom Events which began with a charming and entertaining introduction by Lin Shaye explaining her own thoughts on why horror works and why we return over and over to the genre.
The film, based on a story by Jeffrey Reddick (Finaly Destination) and written by Reddick, William Halfon, and Jonathan Doyle, tells the story of Aaron (Michael Welch), a newly-minted down on his luck lawyer trying to make it in the big city. When news arrives that his father has died, he makes the trek back home to Ohio.
It could be the setup for a family drama about picking oneself up and starting over…but let’s not forget who wrote this thing.
This was, undoubtedly a personal film for Reddick. In a previously recorded Q&A which aired after the film’s credits, he spoke about how he, too, had made the decision to leave home to try his luck in the film world, and the regrets he had looking back.
As a horror writer, he filtered his story through a genre lens and The Final Wish was perhaps born from the double-edged price of his wishes fulfilled.
When Aaron arrives home, he finds that all is far from well, and his mother, Kate, played by the incomparable Lin Shaye, is in the midst of her own emotional breakdown.
Aaron’s father was an antiques dealer, and the house is a veritable museum of trinkets and artifacts, and one of those, an urn, houses a djinn–an ancient shape-shifting fire spirit who will grant your wishes…with a price.
It’s a tale older than “The Monkey’s Paw,” and the trick with any such story or film is finding the right point for the protagonist to realize their wishes are coming true, and how he or she reacts to that realization.
It’s also contingent on balancing just how much information you give the audience. Too much, too soon and you’ve given your hand away; too little, too late and it becomes frustrating.
It’s a tenuous balance, but Woodward and the writers did their very best. Aaron’s first wishes are so subtle, I wasn’t sure he’d even made them until they came to fruition.
Reddick employs some of the very tricks that made his name in the genre teasing death and doom repeatedly using misdirection while holding the real weapon just out of sight. The formula works when you have the right cast to sell it.
Enter Lin Shaye.
The actress brings every ounce of her considerable talent to the role of Kate, dancing on a tightrope made up of a razor-wire of emotions. Her ability to shift seamlessly from seeming madness to exuberant joy to unbridled anger not only brings heightened honesty to a woman whose world has been turned upside down with the loss of her husband, but also puts the audience on eggshells in fear of the next outburst.
Welch as Aaron, meanwhile, had his own balancing act to pull off. Aaron has to be just selfish and desperate enough to make the wishes that get the treacherous ball rolling, and simultaneously be selfless and vulnerable enough to make the right decisions when he realizes the danger he’s in.
Fortunately, Welch was up to the task and his scenes with Shaye, especially, are something to behold.
Unfortunately, not all of the remaining cast was as successful.
Melissa Bolona was stiff and detached as Lisa, Aaron’s possible love-interest. She seems to have only three facial expressions at her disposal, and while she is quite beautiful, the one-note performance never induced emotional connection with the audience.
Likewise, Kaiwi Lyman never becomes more than a stereotype as the former high school quarterback turned douchebag town sheriff.
Still, Jonathan Daniel Brown shines as Aaron’s childhood best friend, Jeremy, holding his cards well and playing them at just the right time, and Jean Elie’s Tyrone is both sympathetic and almost hilarious as a guy with the kind of bad luck that only Jeffrey Reddick can give you.
And did we mention, Tony Todd??
The larger-than-life actor has a small cameo in the film much like his role in the Final Destination franchise, on screen just long enough to creep the audience out while handing out some arcane wisdom as only he can. I swear Todd can make a grocery list sound like Shakespeare, and he proves his ability once again here.
Acting aside, the film, while overall entertaining, at times was just entirely too dark, and I don’t mean the subject matter.
Many of the scenes inside Shaye’s home, especially, are seemingly lit entirely by candlelight. Visually, it is a striking image to see a staircase lit by candles on each step, but without a little more ambient light, the audience will miss what you’re trying to show them.
Unfortunately, this mistake was repeated by cinematographer Pablo Diez throughout the film. There were times when a door would swing open and the camera would linger as though telling the audience to look closely…there’s something to see here. And we would have seen it if the light had shifted up just a few degrees.
Aside from lighting, there were pacing issues throughout the film with some scenes far too elongated and plodding while others, which actually held information we needed, moved at a breakneck pace.
Did this detract from the experience as a whole? Undoubtedly. Was I still entertained when the credits rolled? You bet.
It could be that I’m just a sucker for a family drama turned horror film, but with hints of Final Destination and Jack Goes Home and with a good mixture of tension, emotion, gore, and a couple of well-placed jump scares the film is worth a watch to make up your own mind because of its highs and despite its lows
The Final Wish had its official debut at Screamfest and will hit Blu-Ray and DVD on March 19, 2019.