Panic Fest 2024: ‘What You Wish For’ Is A Morality Tale That Will Leave You Squirming

Credit: Magnet Releasing

As a regular consumer of all things HGTV and Food network the recent trend in horror to delve into both the vacation horror and culinary horror subgenres has been great for me personally.  ‘What You Wish For’ sits right at the intersection of these themes while also delivering, as the name would imply, the timeless reminder to thoroughly examine what you think you want, because nothing comes without a cost. Writer/director Nicholas Tomnay comes out strong with this one, asking the viewer how far they would go to live the life of their dreams.

The film kicks off when we join Ryan (Nick Stahl) as he arrives in a tropical oasis to visit Jack (Brian Groh), an old friend from culinary school who seems to be living a dream life cooking once in a lifetime meals for the incredibly rich in unbelievably beautiful locations. Ryan can’t understand why Jack seems to want to leave this extraordinary life behind when he himself, apparently in a bit of gambling debt and not exactly thriving, would love to trade places. When Ryan gets the chance to step into Jack’s shoes he learns that the strings attached to this dream life end up looking more like shackles.

The story starts out a little slow as we get to know our characters but once the twists begin to kick in the tension amps up. Stahl is doing some of his best work here as a desperate man slowly coming to the realization that he is very much in over his head. The beautiful location, a latin american resort town, is the perfect setting for a bit of well balanced commentary on how colonial vacation culture affects the local communities and people that live alongside it.

Genre enthusiasts know that horror is often a great place to reflect society’s ills and work through our emotions about real life anxieties. Right now we are seeing a great deal of films working through the deep divisions between the wealthy and the middle and lower classes. The rich are only getting richer while the rest of us can only imagine what we would do with all of that money…and what they do with theirs that we don’t know about. If I’m to believe the films I’ve seen in the past few years, the rich are absolutely diabolical with their free time and disposable income. Bored with the mundane options of the every man they are digging deeper into depravity to feel a little bit alive. What often seems more incredible to watch is how willing middle class folks are to excuse and facilitate these abhorrent behaviors with the belief that they too will one day be in the upper echelon. This is where ‘What You Wish For’ carves out its moral lines. While the viewer can never quite agree with Ryan’s actions throughout the film, you can understand where he’s coming from as every bad decision escalates into something much worse.

While Tomnay’s story is largely rooted in the psychological thriller realm, ‘What You Wish For’ does not hold back when it’s time to get it’s hands dirty. The exact right amount of violence and gore raises the stakes and keeps the audience squirming. This one is sure to ignite some post film discussion and leave you questioning if you ever want a tropical vacation or a fancy dinner ever again!

What You Wish For’ screened in person at Panic Fest on April 5th, 2024.

Panic Fest 2024: ‘What You Wish For’ Is A Morality Tale That Will Leave You Squirming