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Fantastic Fest 2023 Reviews: ‘What You Wish For’ and ‘Your Lucky Day’

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Despite being different film subgenres, Your Lucky Day and What You Wish For are surprisingly similar. The two movies boast fantastic performers from Angus Cloud and Nick Stahl. Although Angus Cloud has passed away, his performance in the film is still a captivating force. Stahl, like Cloud, has also faced struggles, but his performance in What You Wish For may mark the beginning of a comeback for the underappreciated actor.

Both movies played at Fantastic Fest  feature one-setting thrillers that continue to build throughout its runtime. While one film is a bit more flawed in execution, they are equally worth discussing as independent artworks. Here are our thoughts about What You Wish For and Your Lucky Day out of Fantastic Fest 2023.

Your Lucky Day at Fantastic Fest 2023

Your Lucky Day takes full advantage of its budget while depicting a tense hostage takeover involving a $156 million winning ticket. As stated, it’s executed chiefly from one location and possesses shades of inspiration from films like Assault on Precinct 13, where a building becomes a low-key warzone.

This narrative echoes a familiar concept that has been explored before. When given the chance to strike it rich, everyday people can become consumed by greed and act ruthlessly. This notion has been portrayed more effectively in works like A Simple Plan. Nonetheless, utilizing familiar concepts can be good practice when making a first feature.

The film begins with Sterling, portrayed by the late Angus Cloud, who is struggling with financial problems. In a convenience store, Sterling overhears a wealthy person winning a lottery, prompting him to rob the man at gunpoint to improve his financial situation. However, his plan fails, and he ends up offering to split the winnings with other people present in the store, including a pregnant woman named Ana (Jessica Garza) and her partner Abraham (Elliot Knight), as well as a store clerk named Amir (Mousa Hussien Kraish).

Your Lucky Day
Image from Your Lucky Day. (Well Go USA Entertainment)

A promising start and an exceptional performance from Angus Cloud

Dan Brown’s first thriller film, which he directed and wrote, is noteworthy despite some screenplay problems. Angus Cloud delivers an exceptional performance in the movie. However, the character of Sterling is underdeveloped, giving us only a shallow understanding of his financial needs and motivations as a character. The film suffers from awkward moments interrupting the story’s flow, like Abraham’s singing to Ana before undertaking a difficult task. The scene was meant to be a genuine interaction between the characters, but it falls flat, bringing the film to a halt.

As a filmmaker, Brown’s talent for increasing tension in his films is admirable and shows promise. The final portion of the movie includes multiple surprising plot shifts, takes some daring chances, and ends with a pivotal moment that leaves one feeling anxious. However, the characters would benefit from more development. Some violent scenes seem implausible, as they involve characters who had not previously exhibited any signs of being capable of such extreme acts.

Dan Brown’s adaptation of his 2010 short film is worth checking out. There are mistakes made here, but movies are just like writing novels. The first attempt is rarely perfect. Depending on how Brown goes from here, he could have a winning lottery ticket for his next venture.

What You Wish For is skillfully tense and garnished with irony

Nick Stahl’s extended absence from the public eye is notable. During the early 2000s, the actor was highly regarded for performing in films such as Sin City and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Stahl also played a lead role in the underappreciated series Carnivale, which was canceled after only two seasons. In his latest project, Stahl has collaborated with director Nicholas Tomnay, who helmed the critically acclaimed thriller The Perfect Host starring David Hyde Pierce. The result of this collaboration is the impressive film What You Wish For, which showcases the talents of these two underrated artists.

The film centers on Ryan (Stahl), a culinary chef who travels abroad to Latin America to meet an old friend named Jack (Brian Groh). When reuniting with Jack (a chef) Ryan acknowledges how lucky Jack’s life is. Jack travels everywhere, makes millions, and is an on-call chef for distinguished rich people. The energy seems luxurious, and Ryan gives him praise for his accomplishments. But Ryan has secrets, and so does Jack. After a series of unfortunate events, Ryan is put into the position to take over Jack’s strange, lavish lifestyle. And it’s not the culinary dream job he wished for.

Tomnay’s script effectively builds tension and portrays the discomfort of the situation in a subtle manner, avoiding cheap shock value. The film’s realistic portrayal of Ryan’s unsettling job adds to the sense of unease, as normality can sometimes be more terrifying than overt evil. Jeffrey Epstein serves as a prime example of this notion, as his public persona as a wealthy businessman belied his darker private activities. It raises an interesting question: What is more frightening? A goth family who commits murder, sacrifices, or other horrifying acts, or the seemingly perfect couple next door with an average house and a white picket fence?

Nick Stahl as Ryan and Tamsin Topolskias Imogene in What You Wish For (Fantastic Fest).
Nick Stahl as Ryan and Tamsin Topolski as Imogene in What You Wish For (Fantastic Fest).

Praise for Nick Stahl in What You Wish For

Stahl, amazingly, has not lost a beat since returning to more projects in the last few years. His role as Ryan is a testament to Stahl’s acting ability. Some performers are not great at facial acting, where a stare, a look, or even posture communicates the feeling of a character. Stahl handles the tension of the film well through little dialogue. He does speak, but we can see the quiet panic on his face.

What You Wish For might make viewers lose their appetites, but it’s a solid thriller with quiet moments of unsettling suspense. The film is marinated with slow-burn tension while garnishing its three-course offering with a sense of irony. Given some gnarly subject matter, What You Wish For will only be for some. But it’s one of the best from Fantastic Fest.

Are you interested in seeing Your Lucky Day and What You Wish For? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or on the Discord. And don’t forget to check out our other film reviews from Fantastic Fest 2023 here, with more on the way soon!

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John Dotson

Born and raised in Texas, John Dotson has been a film pundit for over 10 years, writing reviews and entertainment coverage at various online outlets. His favorite thing in the world is discussing movies with others who also love the art form.

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