‘What You Wish For’ Fantastic Fest 2023 Review: Scrumptious Culinary Horror 

What You Wish For

Culinary horror is a personal favorite of mine. Call me crazy, but films where food and consumption meet the grotesque make my mouth water. Somehow even the most disgusting dishes can be made beautiful with the right director. Such is the case for Nicholas Tomnay’s new film What You Wish For, which had its world premiere at the 2023 Fantastic Fest. Tomnay, who wrote and directed the film, takes the typical critiques of consumption under capitalism and the depravity of the upper class and creates a delightfully skeezy thriller about desperation and searching for that one life-changing meal.

Nick Stahl stars in What You Wish For as Ryan, a down-on-his-luck chef bogged down with gambling debts and nowhere left to turn. He travels to a Latin American villa to visit an old friend from culinary school and see if he can maybe land a job. What he doesn’t realize is the hornets’ nest he’s walking into and as the hours pass, Ryan realizes how deeply he’s sinking into a very dark and complicated situation.

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Saying any more would ruin the experience of every one of the film’s twists and turns, and trust me, there are more than a few. But suffice to say, Tomnay’s script is razor sharp in its pitch-black comedy and dry wit combined with enough twists and turns to make you dizzy. It’s a movie that puts the Safdies to shame in its ability to ratchet up the tension for almost the entire film. There’s never a moment to breathe and yet you can’t look away. You need to know what happens next. Tomnay’s ability to keep you engaged no matter the rapidly increasing complications is a testament to his abilities as a writer and director.

Nick Stahl proves he needs way more work after his performance as the desperate chef who discovers just how far he’s willing to go to survive. His character is, quite honestly, a dirtbag. Stahl never tries to make Ryan fully likable, committing to an anti-hero vibe rather than trying to make the Everyman the default good guy. Between Tomnay’s script and Stahl’s performance, Ryan really becomes that dirtbag chef you smoked cigarettes with on break who meant well but was always just a little too creepy. It’s incredibly relatable to see more gross chefs on screen who have that sort of charm that comes from drinking too much and sweating out your body weight every night during dinner service. Nothing about him screams stable, but you may just be able to fix him.

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Opposite Stahl is the stunning Tamsin Topolski as Imogen, a representative for the company that employs his old friend. She’s your typical stern type A henchman who, despite their best efforts, has to watch their perfect world crumble after an inevitable wrench is thrown into things. Here, the entire toolbox is thrown into Imogen’s well-oiled machine and Topolski depicts her rage and panic with ease. You can’t help but cackle as she tries to keep a straight face while her eyes fill with panic. While the dialogue is smart, her facial expressions do just as much work to create Imogen.

Mateo Guzman’s crisp cinematography makes the gorgeous villa feel sterile and prison-like, beautiful yet brutal, a space only meant for those who can pay the entry fee (or those who work for them). What is meant to be a vacation spot is filmed to seem dangerous yet alluring, the proverbial apple in the garden of Eden, begging to be consumed. And of course there is the food. While perfect plates aren’t the focus, it’s about the work behind creating the food (in more ways than one). Guzman captures Ryan’s art while also capturing the pure anxiety of trying to execute a menu for a very important client.

What You Wish For will undoubtedly be compared to Mark Rylod’s 2022 food horror The Menu. While Rylod’s film boasts a more star-studded cast, Tomnay’s What You Wish For boasts a much darker story that reveals the horrors capable by the wealthy rather than poking fun at them. While certain beats of What You Wish For may feel familiar, Tomnay is never afraid to go even darker to the point of the absurd, which sets this apart from recent culinary horror films like The Menu and Fresh. It’s simply delicious.



‘What You Wish For’ is a delightfully skeezy thriller about desperation and searching for that one life-changing meal



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