Written and directed by Dinh Thai, co-written with Ivan Tsang, an obsessively over-caring woman offers her significant other a birthday gift in the form of a blast from the past that he will never, ever forget. Starring: Edward Hong, Josephine Chang and Roman Moretti.
Having watched any American films or TV shows set in a high school, we all know that it can’t be a fun experience for a very large number of people that have attended them, let alone in the world prior to social media, as an Asian kid where physical torment was the top bullying strategy. So, it’s a given that any kid like Freddie (Hong) would have imagined some pretty terrible things happening to the ones that made his life a living hell Monday to Friday, week in and week out, but the great majority of those people grew into adults and never actually sought revenge on their bullies. However, Freddie’s loving fiancé Lexie (Chang) offers him exactly that opportunity to take such vengeance as her special birthday gift to him, even topping the bully (Moretti) with a nice bow. What Freddie does next; you’ll have to watch the film to find out.
One of the great things about this film is how quickly it establishes its tone and the balance of comedy and horror, that initial scene and throwing a little jump scare at you as an introduction to the characters and the story is very well written and directed to kick things off with a bang, literally. That tone then is impressively consistent throughout, the atmosphere it creates is something akin to Happy Death Day, it has that inherent dark and twisted nature to its story but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and allows for the comedy to blend cohesively with the horror. That initial introduction of its horror element is so utterly casual and it’s a really clever way to do it, having the camera lead itself there, instead of trying to force it, experiencing it simultaneously with the lead character. Given that its story is pretty messy, the style of direction is surprisingly graceful, it’s not pushing too much on the sinister edge but bringing it out in a much smoother fashion. That style is supported by some fantastic editing work (by Cullan Bruce and Kelly Nickels) which adds a great pace to events, and highlights both the comedy and horror by some great movements from single character shots to taking in the situation more as a whole.
All of which highlights exceptionally well the leading couple, Freddie and Lexie played by Edward Hong and Josephine Chang, both of whom are brilliant in this film. There’s not a tonne of time for the two of them to build chemistry but it is undoubtedly there and they play off each other in a very satisfying way, they have a really entertaining back and forth which is partially talking, partially Lexie politely screaming an internal monologue of being underappreciated. Chang as Lexie is superb, it reiterates that you should never trust someone with too sunny of a disposition and bringing through that maniacal inner personality while remaining shiny and happy on the outside shows a sincere level of talent. Hong is also excellent but in a much different way, being presented with this opportunity to seek his revenge against his childhood bully brings more of a dilemma than he expects and the way that Hong adjusts his body language and facial expression just slightly to show the moment when he falls from one decision to another is impressive. Moretti’s Brock is again very different, his presence is more to facilitate the story but he does so in a way that kicks in to the comedy and rounds out that aspect nicely, however his physical acting peaks at a little over the top and he could have scaled back slightly in latter moments.
However, what his character does bring to the table, through the brilliant writing, is highlighting what a horrible experience being an Asian kid in an American high school in…well basically any time probably is, with the hope that today’s school are a little less cruel and closed minded. It’s always a great staple of good quality horror films to add that extra element, that it’s not just violence or terror for their sake, there’s a larger picture to events. That and the comedic aspects to the story are both very well written, it’s consistently funny, it’s not predictable and it doesn’t overplay its hand, it’s not subtle but it’s also not trying to go for melodramatics, for instance it frankly pushes on how much of an asshole Brock is but it doesn’t try to take it too far. It also introduces a lot of elements that feel very current, mostly in the ways that Lexie was able to track down the bully, which is a lovely reminder of the dark capabilities of social media.
Make a Wish is funny, dark, stylish and a thrill to watch, don’t take its very unthreatening title for granted because its story is certainly twisted. It sets a fantastic atmosphere to blend comedy with horror, it’s not tipping over into one or the other, it plays on a great mix of the two. Hong and Chang lead the charge with huge confidence and talent, the two roles ask very different things of each actor but they both give excellent performances, the image of Lexie’s smudged lipstick and knife in hand is the equivalent of Samara Weaving in that bloody wedding dress. Dinh Thai is clearly an extremely talented filmmaker, it’s plain to see he could easily translate a story like this into a feature for the big screen and it would be a pleasure to watch, so here’s hoping for even bigger things from him in the future.