The Final Wish is an uneven indie-horror experience that may still be worth the ride for fans of the genre.
I had never heard of Timothy Woodward Jr prior to writing this review. Upon doing some preliminary research, I discovered that he is quite a prolific director, having directed sixteen films and six television episodes in the span of six years, between 2013 and 2019. Among these films is The Final Wish, a low-budget horror film that tackles the “city guy goes to the country and bad things happen” trope in horror.
The Final Wish follows Aaron (Michael Welch), a struggling law school graduate in Chicago, as he returns home to comfort his mourning mother (Lin Shaye) after his father dies. Once home, while he reconnects with old friends and enemies from high school, he finds some of his needs and desires coming true. While his wishes are being granted, however, their fulfillment always manifests in strange and dangerous ways.
Timothy Woodward Jr has clearly seen his fair share of spooky films, because he checks off a lot of the boxes. The spooky house, the spooky mom, the spooky locals, the slasher opening; the gang’s all here. So what does Woodward do to stand out and expand upon the familiar? Well, while I can’t say the film’s use of these tropes is original or subverts my expectations, they are mostly utilized well. Though I will sometimes find some story and thematic elements a little too familiar, it’s never distracting or bad enough to pull me out of the film.
One of my main critiques is The Final Wish’s lighting. While I understand and acknowledge that darkness is a common and effective tool in horror storytelling, much of the lighting in this film is needlessly dark. There will be shots of characters having a conversation, but you won’t be able to see either of them, or only be able to make out their silhouette. Other times, there will be dramatic shots or quick closeups punctuated by a sting of musical tension, but you won’t be able to see what’s on the screen, ruining the moment. When implemented well, darkness can be an invaluable narrative tool to accentuate tension and narrative, but in this context the darkness doesn’t seem to serve a narrative purpose, making several scenes frustrating to watch.
As for The Final Wish’s plot and pacing, the first half is slow. Too slow, if you ask me. The plot is front-loaded with a lot of exposition, and while this information becomes important later on in the film, the way a lot of it is presented causes the plot to drag. Some of this can be attributed to the film’s poor characterization. While Aaron is given some depth as the film’s protagonist, almost everyone else feels one dimensional and flat, particularly those who play an antagonist. Some of the actors, however, are able to give commendable performances despite this road block. A few standout performances I will note are Jonathan Daniel Brown as Jeremy (Aaron’s high school friend), Lin Shaye as Kate (Aaron’s mother), and Tony Todd of Candyman fame delivering only a brief cameo, but doing a great job anyway and I really wish he was in more things because he’s great.
In the second half, however, the narrative noticeably picks up the pace as Aaron gains more knowledge about his situation, increasing his agency. This escalation of stakes and tension makes for a considerably more engaging viewing experience. While the characters are not written with the depth and nuance I would prefer, the writers do an excellent job of creating tension and stressful situations, resulting in a compelling enough experience that almost lets me forgive the first half’s lethargy. There are even a few decent twists which, while not exactly innovative, are still effective for The Final Wish’s narrative.
Another thing I appreciated was how the film would foreshadow things without me really realizing it. I don’t want to give anything away, but there would be times when a character would behave in a way I thought didn’t make sense, or there would be blocking or story beats that I initially perceived to be pointless. However, I was often happy to discover that, later on, these seemingly odd things actually served a purpose, and weren’t the result of lazy filmmaking.
If you’re not a horror fan, I don’t think The Final Wish is going to do much to convert you: it treads a lot of familiar ground within the genre, and if you don’t like the tropes and aesthetics of horror, this movie won’t do much to convince you otherwise. For those of you already familiar and fond of the genre, I’d say it’s worth a shot. There’s enough in here that will keep you invested, even if it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel.
Signature Entertainment presents The Final Wish on Digital HD from May 25th.
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