Sunday, June 5, 2011
Bloody Nightmares #35: Wishbone (2000)
A standard spin on W. W. Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw (or, perhaps more directly, Richard Matheson's Button, Button) Wish Bone starts out quite strongly - with better production values than many of the films in this collection - but eventually fails simply because the plot is dragged out to tedious lengths. By the time the third "party montage" comes along, all but the most patient viewers will be looking at their watches. Director Timothy Gaer simply doesn't capture the spirit that made those original stories - which have already been adapted dozens of times, with "Button, Button" getting a recent Hollywood adaptation as The Box - so fascinating, though there are enough examples of talent both in front and behind the camera to think that with a better and more focused script, this could have been something memorable.
About to graduate college and moving into her own apartment, Lori (Tiffany Lancia) is given an odd statuette known as a "wish-bone" as a present from her aunt and uncle. After a drunken party where several of her friends make joking wishes while holding the item, people in her neighborhood begin to mysteriously vanish and, even more strangely, the wishes begin to come true - starting with her friend Donna winning a million dollars. Skeptical at first, Lori soon discovers that the strange shop-owner who sold the statue to her Aunt and Uncle warned that any wish made on the statue would lead to a death, and (along with her fiance and friends) she tries to track down what has been causing all of the mysterious disappearances.
Starting with a reliable Twilight Zone premise - an object of immense power in the hands of ordinary people - Wishbone simply doesn't develop any of the characters in a way that makes them (or their decisions) worth caring about. Lori seems perfectly nice, though her eventual decision to start hunting potential kidnappers with a gun was a bit of a head-scratcher, and the sub-plot of her relaxing her virginal ways because of her near-death experience could be interesting in a different movie, but a plot like this should rely on internal turmoil and the struggle about whether to use the power that has been given, and that simply never happens. And since nearly all of the deaths occur to random people - and, with a few exceptions, tend to not be very stylish or interesting to watch - it's simply difficult to remain interested.
These pacing issues are exacerbated by the usual technical issues and oddities expected on low-budget productions, particularly the distracting editing choice to fade to black as a way of ending most scenes. This is a common mistake with young filmmakers who enjoy the smoothness of this transition, but actually demolishes any momentum that might have been built. Even worse is that much of the film's dialogue is drowned out by the film's soundtrack, which is impressively diverse but adds nothing to most scenes. Thankfully the actually dialogue - when not being overwhelmed - has been adequately recorded. Add in the usual glitches and lighting issues during darker scenes (combined with the quality issues that come from squeezing four films onto a single disc in this collection) and it makes for a sometimes frustrating viewing experience.
To Gaer's credit, while there isn't much camera movement, there are efforts to expand the visual style away from just master shots cutting to close-ups. His direction show an eye for composition usually lacking in this collection, and there are a few scenes which effectively use some unique color and lighting. I was also generally impressed by the quality of acting, despite obviously being a group of amateurs. It's not exceptional quality, and there are still a few shaky performances, but the leads really do give a strong effort. Kudos as well for the surprising number of different locations, a rarity for such a low budget. Gaer was obviously able to get a lot of cooperation from the people of Scranton, PA and he makes good use of the various locales.
Wishbone is presented in a very shaky full-screen transfer which shows off plenty of digital artifacting, particularly in the darker scenes. While it's possible that the original source was this murky and glitchy looking, it's more likely that the compression necessary to fit this film on a disc with three others was the cause. Even outside of this rough transfer, the original video - likely DV - has a blurry softness to it that doesn't allow for much detail. I've already mentioned some of the sound issues due to the music being unnecessarily loud, but the soundtrack itself - while distracting because of the technical issue - is at least pleasantly diverse.
This is part of the Bloody Nightmares collection, so we're denied even the dignity of having chapter stops. There are, however, some weak outtakes that play during the closing credits. I'll take what I can get, but I would hope that there were more amusing errors made during filming than this.
There's something inherently fascinating about the idea of an object that grants wishes - more-so when the result of that wish concurrently creates some sort of tragedy. While the original Monkey's Paw involved the dangers with interfering with fate - the wishes were granted but inevitably led to a tragic event - Matheson's version took things a step further, where the titular button would grant a wish but would lead directly to the death of someone the pusher didn't know. This brings up some interesting questions regarding morality and desperation, and is at least closer in spirit to the wishbone of Timothy Gaer's film. Unfortunately, since almost the entire 90 minute running time of Wishbone is devoted to actually discovering the link between the random disappearances in the town and the granting of wishes, these themes are barely touched upon. What could have been a fascinating look at greed instead becomes sluggish, leading to a unsatisfying supernatural ending. Stronger writing doesn't cost anything except time and talent, and this film could have used a little more of both.