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The Wisher
cast: Liane Balaban, Robert Bamford, Siri Baruc, Ron Silver, and Drew Lachey

director: Gavin Wilding

83 minutes (15) 2002 widescreen ratio 16:9
Mosaic DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to rent or buy on video

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Mary (Liane Balaban) likes to be scared. It proves to her that she is alive; gives the girl a small sexual kick too, but it is the temporary fear hemmed in by a running time that interests her and in no way is it a morbid. She is a little too catwalk to pass herself off convincingly as a horror film enthusiast, it's no wonder the high school geek contingent angle so near about. Sadly, her cinema-going, video renting and Internet downloading has given her bad dreams, brings on short somnambulistic walks and her night time activity has her prone to falling asleep in class. She defies her parents and goes to the local Galaxy multiplex with four friends, Brad (Drew Lachey), Debbie (Siri Baruc), Karen (Andrea Runge) and Jimmy (Rob Van Meener) where the horror sleeper hit 'The Wisher' is still on four screens in its fourth week of release and the foyer promotion includes good old-fashioned promo barf bags. If those details sound a little incredible it is cleverly addressed in the plot at a later point. Now you are guarding yourself for a postmodern take, and there is one - but not exactly as you expect it to take form. Mary is the only audience member who actually does vomit during a shock sequence early in the screened film and all leave the film soon after, Brad escorting her home, only to find the traffic jammed by a fatal car accident. The fatality is her father on the way to collect her, the cause of the crash the film flyer in the driving seat and the movie's supernatural villain standing in the path of the car.
   Six weeks later and every time Mary inadvertently makes a wish it comes true but in unpleasant interpretation. The movie-movie Wisher is called forward by three people while standing under a tree. It can be any tree, as each tree has its own nymph and each nymph has her wisher. We only get one example of the movie-movie Wisher's wish fulfilment and that is quick and harsh. In Mary's world we've seen the face of the Wisher in the large tree outside the family house and the ashen-faced creature stalking her at home and in the streets, flashing its fingernails of ice. But now a triple whammy is introduced to the script as Mary, Debbie and her school counsellor, Campbell (played by Ron Silver) try to solve the mystery and establish whether it is a killer using the movie villain as cover, subliminal messages in the 35mm prints on general release programming kids to kill or cause viewer hallucinations, or the real supernatural Wisher summoned up and on the loose.
   These threads of the natural, scientific and the supernatural are craftily interposed and kept proximate to the story until it is impossible to choose in which the answer lies. This can be a good or bad thing dependent on the seeking of the viewer, few people completely shut off and let all the decisions made for them, they want to solve the mystery for themselves and The Wisher shifts the focus too rapidly to keep up; the experience was so unusual that I quite appreciated it. Besides, there were other games afoot. Ellen Cook's script is smart, and director Gavin Wilding is in accord. It has a postmodern irony that should embarrass the painting-by-numbers excuse for a trilogy that was the Craven and Williamson Scream hit movies. The film's title is unfortunate as it reeks of The Wishmaster already well into its quip-frenzy franchise and this could prove to be a put-off; it may have bettered retaining its original Canadian release title of Spliced.
   Yes, this again is a medium budget Canadian effort, shot in Sasketchewan, in the city of Regina and the town of Moose Jaw, and it just does not do to steal thunder and box-office from the noisy 13-rated Hollywood equivalent. It deserved a theatrical release in Britain but didn't get one. I think the production company is to some extent to blame, the film doesn't necessary demand its own website but the Rampage Entertainment site could have done more in support of this title. The problem for the company, however, is that in emphasising the quality in one production they might pronounce the weakness of most of the productions in their catalogue, and I feel that this is the inconsideration here done to The Wisher. The body count is low, the threat is not necessarily death, a maiming can be horrific enough and is a genuine touch that helps occupy the viewer. Whereas in other films you can forget about the dead, here the absent mutilated and the effect it has on friends and family still preys on the viewer.
   Mary's use of the word 'wish' is well timed in convincingly off-guard moments and is naturally unnoticed by the characters until late in the plot. The movie-within-the-movie is just about inferior, less realistic and differently shot to segregate it from the main feature, and yet it is still entertaining, with outright laughs that you do not get in the main feature. The Wisher does not have the feel of a major cinematic happening, yet it jams its 83-minute running time with plot, ideas and information. It could go either way making its biggest impression on first consumption or on multiple visits.
   No matter how much the plot plays on blonde tarts having magnetism with the boys, Liane Balaban is the obvious outstanding beauty here, even with greasy hair and in unwashed clothes. Drew Lachey as Brad is not as throwaway as is first assumed and plays the chief suspect with aplomb. As Debbie and Karen, Siri Baruc and Andrea Runge are more than just circulating Christian names and make-up, they are real friends, who are there for their friend. When Karen tenderly says, "I just care about you, that's all," having drummed up the approbation of Mary with a 'wish' from her lips, all you can do is shiver at her imminent fate. We like these kids, we care for these girls more than we fancy them and in a low budget horror film that's some achievement in itself.
   The bare bones extras are the trailer, behind the scenes, interviews and an alternative ending. The six behind-the-scenes sequences come undressed and come as a truer impression of the professionalism demanded in making a film than do any half-hour propaganda featurette to a major money release. The video interviews are shoddy and hardly there and the alternative ending is more interesting but would have unnecessarily confused an already compact film. See it, tell others to see it and hope that Cook, Wilding, crew and, hey, it's a cast I certainly don't mind, come together for another horror outing soon.
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