Film Review: Wish You Were Here

Joel Edgerton’s emergence as a bona-fide international star should give this smart, slick Australian-produced thriller a reasonably high profile and potentially attract a bigger audience than Oz fare usually attracts in the US. Entertainment One

The ironically titled Wish You Were Here marks an assured, polished directing debut by Kieran Darcy-Smith, a former actor who appeared in the Oz films Animal Kingdom, The Reef, The Square and September; he wrote the screenplay with his actress wife, Felicity Price. Darcy-Smith is a founder of the Blue-Tongue Films collective whose members include brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton and Animal Kingdom helmer David Michôd.

The concept of two couples whose vacation in an exotic locale turns into a hellish nightmare is hardly original, but the plot offers sufficient twists and turns to keep audiences engaged and guessing about the outcome. Price has said the story was inspired by the experiences of a mutual friend who went on a vacation that ended in murky circumstances and her desire to show how a tragedy would affect the other people involved.

At its heart, Wish You Were Here is a superbly crafted and compelling saga of deceit, paranoia, guilt and reconciliation. Edgerton plays Dave Flannery, a Sydney boat builder who takes his pregnant wife Alice (Price) on a holiday to Cambodia, accompanied by her flaky younger sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) and Steph’s handsome new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr), who has an import/export business.

The prologue shows three of the holidaymakers indulging in a night of boozing, dancing and popping Ecstasy tablets while the more sensible and grounded Alice retires to bed. The sight of a blood-splattered Dave stumbling across a field to a distant resort as dawn breaks sets the foreboding tone.

Back in Sydney, the air is rife with tension as Dave and Alice collect their two kids (Otto Page and Isabelle Austin-Boyd) from Alice’s mother (Tina Bursill). The reason for all this angst is soon clear: Jeremy went missing in Cambodia. While Dave searches online for news updates about Jeremy’s disappearance, his seemingly happy marriage starts to fray and to impact on his responsibilities as a father. Dave’s anxiety is compounded by uneasy dealings with the federal cop (Nicholas Cassim) who’s in charge of the investigation.

Darcy-Smith adroitly builds the tension as the narrative switches back and forth between Sydney and Cambodia right up until the satisfying payoff as secrets are revealed and emotions boil over. Along the way he introduces a couple of red herrings which add to the intrigue.

An actor of prodigious talent, Edgerton is terrific as a conflicted but well-meaning husband and father whose behavior becomes increasingly erratic for reasons that are later revealed. In her first co-lead film role, Price, who has worked mostly in TV, nails the part of a loving, loyal and resilient woman whose equilibrium is sorely tested. Palmer (whose star is on the rise thanks to Warm Bodies) shows an affecting emotional depth as her character unravels. Kiwi-born Starr (the lead in TV’s “Banshee) is effective as the enigmatic Jeremy.

Cinematographer Jules O'Loughlin’s handheld camerawork fuels the film’s urgency and immediacy, while Tim Rogers' songs also enhance the spectacle of being wide awake in an unfolding nightmare.