After carving out a successful career as an actor, including roles in films such as David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom (2010) and The Reef (2010), Kieran Darcy-Smith shifts his focus behind the camera for Wish You Were Here (2012), a directorial debut that explores how one man’s split decision can have a detrimental and devastating chain reaction on those around him. Joel Edgerton stars as Dave, a carefree hedonist holidaying in Cambodia with both his pregnant wife, played by co-writer Felicity Price and her younger sister Steph (Teresa Palmer). However, during one wild, drug-fuelled night, Steph’s lucrative business-man boyfriend, Jeremy (Anthony Starr) mysteriously disappears without a trace.
As investigations get under way into Jeremy’s vanishing, his fellow travellers raise suspicions with their vague and conflicting recollections of the night in question. Alice remains optimistic that Jeremy will surface alive and well. However, her husband and sister know more than they’re letting on. While enquiries continue back in the trio’s homeland of Australia, the dark and disturbing truth of what really happened in Cambodia is eventually revealed. The dark mystery that makes this masterful debut so compelling is tightly packaged in the meticulous editing of two alternate narratives; the past and the present. The story unfolds in a non-linear timeframe that gradually peels back the layers in small and intriguing doses, weaving back and forth from the ambiguities of the holiday to their interrogative nightmare.
Each piece of the puzzle fits together seamlessly thanks to great performances from the main players. The structure of the film sees the actors playing two versions of their characters simultaneously, highlighting the stark contrast of their lives before the disappearance of Jeremy and after. Edgerton leads confidently, playing the suspicious husband with a heavily solemn conscience. Both he and Price gel effectively as spouses, together delivering one of the film’s greatest and frighteningly realistic showdowns. Meanwhile, bright young thing Palmer is captivating as the sister, bringing her own secrets to the mix and adds great angst to the ever mounting and unrelenting conflict.
Events unfold beneath the aesthetic sheen of hot, hot heat and steady, intricate pacing ensures that even when the holiday is over and the sun has gone down, the temperature is cranked to boiling point and the characters, as well as audience are made to sweat through the tension. Enthralling, challenging and evocative, the strength of the drama is in the tight grip of its mystery, which remains protected with utmost care, until the film’s final, and almost alarmingly abrupt act. Wish You Were Here is a rewarding and unpredictable thriller from Darcy-Smith, who proves with this remarkably confident feature that he has a promising directorial career ahead.
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