On the grounds of an all-girl art school (apparently, such things exist in South Korea), is a flight of stone steps carved into a hill. There are 28 steps; but there is a rumor that if you count them aloud as you ascend, you will find a 29th, upon which you can ask a fox to grant you a wish.
Stories of wishes gone bad are common in horror and fantasy. Usually, the ‘gone-bad’ involves a wish being granted in a way the wisher didn’t expect. For example, we have two friends: Jin-Seong and So-Hee, both of whom are enrolled in the art school’s ballet program. A competition is announced that will see one student win a trip to Russia to study at one of their famed ballet institutions. So-Hee is the odds-on favorite, despite coming just off an injury; so Jin-Seong, who has sort of risen to the top in So-Hee’s absence, decides to stack the deck in her favor with the help of the fox spirit (whom we never see, unfortunately). She wishes merely to win the competition; but rather than make her better than her friend, the fox gives her friend another injury, preventing her from competing.
Meanwhile, So-Hee shows a tiny bit of kindness to Hye-Ju, the chubby girl who talks to plants as they are her only friends. Hye-Ju becomes obsessed and starts fantasizing about the girl. When So-Hee dies, Hye-Ju wishes her back, a wish that is granted in a less-than-optimal way.
Like its predecessors, Whispering Corridors and Memento Mori, Wishing Stairs is about the (possibly sexual) friendships between young women, and the rage and bitterness that follows their dissolution. The previous films used bullying as the wedge; where one girl turned from the other because of peer pressure; this one looks at a relationship that was unbalanced to begin with. Perhaps if So-Hee had never been injured, Jin-Seong would have become accustomed to her place in the shadows; but having tasted the spotlight; their tenuous friendship was doomed.
It seems that the producers of this film were influenced by the ghost movies coming out of Japan (Ringu, The Grudge), as the ghost this time around shares a lot in common with its Japanese cousins. In Whispering Corridors, the ghost just looked like a normal girl walking the halls and using weapons. The Wishing Stairs ghost, by contrast, has a healthy coat of white and black face-paint, levitates, and moves around in the awkward, disjointed crawl that The Ring made famous.
Wishing Stairs is about as good as the other films in the series. As always, they rely on spooky atmosphere and tension to make up for the lack of graphic violence. For the most part, this is a successful trade-off; but the ‘wishing’ aspect in this installment added a fanciful/whimsical element that kind of detracted from the ominous feeling the rest of the film was trying to portray.
The DVD from Tartan presents the film in anamorphic widescreen, which looks a little dark and gloomy, but that might be on purpose. It also includes a ‘making of’ featurette.