Nick Stahl Is a Master of Gore in ‘What You Wish For’

Logic does not consistently serve the bizarre plot in a meaningful way—but if you can overlook narrative lapses, it’s a film full of surprises.

In What You Wish For, Nick Stahl is a skillful master of how to move the gore with exactly the right pace to exude charm. Courtesy of Magnet Releasing

Among the plethora of horror films glutting the post-pandemic market, a strange, muted little item called What You Wish For has received scant attention, but it’s better than most. The resourceful Texas-born actor Nick Stahl (In the Bedroom) plays Ryan, a Dallas chef who travels to a Latin American country to visit his old friend Jack (Brian Groh), a fellow chef he hasn’t seen since they were roommates in culinary school 12 years ago. Ryan doesn’t know much about Jack other than the fact that he’s been fabulously successful working for a beautiful and mysterious employer named Imogene (Tamsin Topolski), who makes millions providing wealthy, eccentric clients with rare, elaborate meals in remote, secretive locations. Ryan takes one look at Jack’s clothes, cars and lifestyle, acquired by nothing but cooking, and wants to be just like him. The first night passes pleasantly enough—competitive dinners of risotto with saffron and a beautiful girl to share the meal. Then, a nasty, disruptive text message arrives for Ryan: “We know you’ve left the country. You have three days or we’ll find you.” The tense action begins. The next morning, Ryan finds his buddy hanging from a rope on the tropical lanai. Instead of rushing Jack to a doctor, or the cops, or the morgue, Ryan deposits his body in a swamp and assumes his identity and his gourmet-dinner job. What follows is a combination of psychological thrills, suspense, and creepy black comedy guaranteed to ingratiate seekers of films that are grim, offbeat, and just a little bit different.

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WHAT YOU WISH FOR ★★★(3/4 stars)
Directed by: Nicholas Tomnay
Written by: Nicholas Tomnay
Starring: Nick Stahl, Tamsin Topolski, Brian Groh
Running time: 101 mins.


Alas, the plausibility plummets when Ryan goes to the bank pretending to be Jack and withdraws his entire fortune without a hitch or a raised eyebrow, claiming he’s been in an accident and can’t remember the online password to his account, which is needed to verify his identity. If you’ve ever had as many problems with passwords as I have, you know there is no such thing as ordering a fake ID over the internet with the aid of a brief search on Google. To make matters denser than ever, the glamorous but deadly employer, Imogene, arrives, and Ryan discovers Jack has been working for a corrupt agency that makes millions in profits by setting up criminal dinners for rich, decadent guests, then killing off the servants so they can’t reveal the secret ingredients in the entrees. Much blood is spilled before the party ends, using kitchen weapons such as butcher knives and chainsaws.  

Logic does not consistently serve the bizarre plot in a meaningful way. Still, if you can overlook narrative lapses, it’s a film full of surprises—especially in the revelation of why Jack’s customers pay a fortune for their meals and what ingredients go into the menu. Writer-director Nicholas Tomnay knows how to make maximum use of plot twists that keep an audience on its toes, and Nick Stahl is a skillful master of how to move the gore with exactly the right pace to exude charm in spite of his character’s ongoing toxicity. He gets what he wishes for and ends up with more than he bargained for.

On a double bill, this would be an intriguing companion piece to last year’s flinty, luxurious and harrowing The Menu. Where else would you get not one—but two movies—about gastronomy, haute cuisine, and cannibalism?

Nick Stahl Is a Master of Gore in ‘What You Wish For’