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‘WHAT YOU WISH FOR’ Movie Review: a Deliciously Twisted, Cerebral Shocker

In his latest film, What You Wish For, director Nicholas Tomnay (The Perfect Host) crafts a deliciously sinister premise that deftly avoids becoming another “torture porn” project, despite its exploration of seriously sadistic subject matter. Instead, the film provides an intelligent and taut vehicle to provide a biting social commentary on the stark divide between the haves and the have-nots.

The film follows Ryan (Nick Stahl), a talented chef who, after running up a staggering gambling debt, has fled to the “supposedly” safe haven of an unnamed Latin American country. Here, he is welcomed by his old friend Jack (Brian Groh), a more prestigious chef with issues of his own, who he hasn’t seen in 12 years. Impressed by Jack’s extravagant lifestyle, Ryan naturally wants in on the spoils and volunteers his services as sous-chef. But in a cruel twist of fate, Jack’s riches are served up on a platter as Ryan adopts his friend’s identity. Unfortunately, he soon finds himself wishing he hadn’t, as he learns of the unsavory methods Jack had been resorting to to maintain the lavish lifestyle he so desperately craved.

Stahl tucks into his role with great relish, his moral compass erratic as he becomes increasingly frantic to settle his gambling debts as his lenders threaten to kill his mother. But then, when he realizes he’s dug himself an even deeper hole, he seamlessly navigates between a far more wistful place and the remorselessness required to wriggle his way out of the two dilemmas he’s gotten himself into.

Things may strain the viewer’s credibility at times when it comes to some of the weak excuses Ryan comes up with in an attempt to get his hands on his former friend’s money and later to escape the situation he’s found himself in, but that doesn’t detract from a solid and ever escalating premise and succulent performances from the central cast.

Talking of which, Tamsin Topolski’s Imogene proves herself the perfect antagonist. Beneath her unassuming demeanor lies a steely determination that remains hidden – only emerging when she’s forced to bluntly command Jack to refocus his efforts on the task at hand.

And then, once the police start sniffing into what Imogene and co. are up to, the tension escalates dramatically, largely due to a short but sublime turn from Randy Vasquez as Detective Ruiz.

His appearance in the film sets up a brilliantly executed dinner table scene in the final act that plays out like the best whodunits, leaving the viewer on edge wondering exactly how things will play out. With all the twisted goings on in the kitchen, you can’t help but imagine that it’s all going to end in some sort of bloodbath. Of course, this reviewer is not going to give that away here, but what I will say is that Tomnay smartly decided not to resort to revealing all the graphic gore that he could have given the premise of the film. Instead, the mere suggestion of Stahl’s character’s actions is far more shocking, allowing the viewer’s imagination to run wild and envision a more bloodthirsty film than what is actually shown on screen.

What You Wish For is an unsettlingly unpredictable thriller that avoids cheap thrills or empty shocks, instead serving up a deliciously twisted, cerebral experience. It’s a chef’s kiss from this reviewer, though the film is perhaps best savored well after dinner.

VERDICT:

Magnet Releasing will release What You Wish For in theaters and on VOD on May 31, 2024.

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