Clare Shannon (Joey King) has found her life difficult ever since she stumbled upon her dead mother, a suicide by hanging, in the attic of their house one day. This has left her with her father Jonathan (Ryan Philippe) who scrapes a living scavenging junk from dumpsters, much to her humiliation - especially when he does so opposite her school, only one reason why she is bullied there by the more popular kids. She does have two good friends, however, but even they are not enough to prevent her getting into a catfight with the resident Queen Bee, though just as Clare thinks things can't get any worse, her father finds an ornate music box and brings it home for her to enjoy...
Remember the old story of The Monkey's Paw, the W.W. Jacobs yarn about the titular object that can grant the holder three wishes, only all of them have a habit of going horribly wrong? If you're not aware of that, you may be aware of the Final Destination series which saw character meeting grim but ingenious demises as they were cursed by fate, or perhaps The Butterfly Effect, the parallel universes sci-fi where each try at sorting what had gone wrong in the previous universe sees events get worse in the current one. That latter was perhaps more pertinent, as it had a straight to video sequel that was directed by John R. Leonetti, the man at the helm of this little item.
He was attempting to redeem himself after a serious misstep of a horror seeking to exploit the Manson Family murders that is best swept under the carpet, and just to show Hollywood loves a comeback story, he was served with a minor hit here. No matter how derivative Barbara Marshall's screenplay was in its resounding echoes of other successes, there was at least a hint of satire here on the teenage generation who wanted everything from life immediately and with the shortest of short cuts imaginable, hence the device here which operated as the genie of the lamp in Aladdin, or perhaps the villain of the Wishmaster series, only without a specific villain character for focus.
The box itself was the bad guy, yet an attractive one as the appeal of having everything you ever wanted was too much for Clare to resist, no matter that there was a price for attaining those supernatural fulfilments: simply take one life. Not that Clare had to murder someone, all she had to do was wish and the box would arrange for someone she knew (or had met one night, it wasn't fussy) to be bumped off in an elaborate, preferably Heath Robinson fashion (or Rube Goldberg, probably, as this was an American production). She can just about get away with this when she doesn't put two and two together and realise why there is a death after every granted request, but once she is aware, our heroine comes across as selfish at best, desperate in the middle, and callously reckless at worst.
The allure of the wishes from the lamp of the old Arabian Nights tales has lasted for millennia, so Marshall could be excused returning to the well for the umpteenth variation, but what about the way the audience were invited to be severely judgemental on the sanity of Clare's choices? She asks for the boy she fancies to be madly in love with her, and immediately you see the problem with the inclusion of that word "madly", one of a selection of issues she places in her way to ultimate satisfaction with her rapidly altering existence. We're not coaxed into wondering what we would do in her position, we are guided to think she is an idiot and deserves all the bad occurrences that result, which can be satisfying, but it was nakedly manipulative at the same time. Quite apart from that, often the situations would fall back into outright camp, prompting unintended giggles at the exaggeration of Clare's consequences. Add an ending that was not so much a twist as it was an arbitrary cutting off point, and you had a silly, enjoyable, but sanctimonious little thing. Music by tomandandy.