There could not be a more appropriate title for the Gourmet Film Noir What You Wish For starring Nick Stahl. The film is playing as a part of Fantastic Fest 2023.
Writer/Director Nicholas Tomnay takes the troupes of the switched identities of Film Noir to the darkest of extremes in his newest film What You Wish For. Starring Nick Stahl as Ryan, a gambling addict on the run from debts and threats to his person. Hiding out in South America and reconnecting with his Gourmet School roomie Jack (Brian Groh), Ryan yearns for the six-figure lifestyle that Jack has. Through a series of events Ryan’s dreams do come true but at a cost. That cost is what makes up the meat of What You Wish For’s darkly satiric look at the one being thrust into the very means you wish you had.
A film that is as breezy as it is deeply disturbing gives us the flip side of what one rarely thinks of. The actual value and sacrifice of the rich and elite’s means and objects. Tomnay with precision accuracy and a darkly comedic bent shows us the pound of flesh Ryan must give for those things. Those materialistic needs that he so desperately covets as he introduced to Jack’s lifestyle. Who can blame him being thousands of dollars in debt and threats to not only his person but his mother as well. It is only when Ryan is given the “devil’s handshake” that the film truly thrusts its dagger into the soft belly flesh of an unsuspecting, or very suspecting audience.
What gives What You Wish For its umph is not just the pitch perfect deadpan tone Tomnay is able to deftly balance throughout but Stahl’s wonderfully sweaty nervous performance. Stahl as the years have gone on has become a truly wonderful performer with the ability to toe that line that one needs to be the morally dubious lead of a Noir. One imagines that Stahl would have thrived in the 1940s and 1950s as the lead in Columbia or Universal Noirs. There is a physicality to Stahl’s Ryan that feels lean and hungry like a coyote on the hunt for the remnants of substance.
The film truly shines in its third act where all is revealed, where twists and turns are had as in all great Noirs. The inevitable outcome remains ever present for all but Stahl’s Ryan until the final moments of resignation. What You Wish For gives Ryan everything he could ever want, but at a cost. One that even at the end he is beginning to grips with, having traded one living hell for another.