Wish You Were Here, 2012.
Written and Directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith.
Starring Felicity Price, Joel Edgerton, Antony Starr and Teresa Palmer.
Two sisters Steph (Teresa Palmer) and Alice (Felicity Price) and their partners Jeremy (Antony Starr) and Dave (Joel Edgerton) lose themselves in the fun of a carefree South East Asian holiday to Cambodia. Fun turns sinister when only three (Alice, Dave and Steph) return home. Who amongst them knows what happened on that fateful night when they were dancing on the beach under a full moon in Cambodia?
At this point – in the wake of The Square, Animal Kingdom and Hesher – anything from Blue Tongue Films has my undivided attention. Following a good reception at Sundance, I had relatively high expectations of Wish You Were Here, and I was not disappointed. Kieran Darcy-Smith’s debut is a taught psychological thriller that collapses the space between the audience and the players to create an intimate, claustrophobic and paranoid space.
Darcy-Smith’s directorial style does not feel like that of a debut filmmaker. The use of natural lighting with unglamorous, ‘real’ characterisations that emulate the ‘proactive documentary’ style of Darren Aronofsy’s The Wrestler achieves Darcy-Smith’s paramount intention for Wish You Were Here – truth and reality on every level. That’s not to say that the film isn’t beautifully shot, but Wish You Were Here plays on aesthetic contrasts to compliment the themes. The film is fragmented, beginning and ending with the open and close of the story but cutting between times and locations to slowly reveal how the holiday turned into a nightmare.
The holiday and small select moments back home are filled with vibrant colour, rich texture and warmth that echo the experience of the characters. Darcy-Smith’s sensual camera during these stanzas feels like it admires the natural beauty of the characters and the sublime beauty of the location – it gets in their headspace. And this is complimented beautifully with the bleak literal and metaphoric searching of the characters when they return back home.
Joel Edgerton is a phenomenal presence here, playing the slightly left of centre Dave, who subverts your expectations throughout. He’s one of those rare talents that can effortlessly shift from the unassuming background to dominant assertive presence in the foreground within the same character.
Felicity Price’s Alice brings the warmth to the film. Price’s sincere and truthful method that compliments a character that I dare say was written for her. The highlight of her performance is her descent to despair after being touched by some of the dark truths of the journey.
Teresa Palmer’s Steph is beautiful, passionate and impulsive. Palmer plays Steph as an emotionally unstable character; a slave to her cravings. Her physical beauty brings the sexual tension to the partying, where she’s clearly an object of desire. However I really enjoyed her characters immaturity in the face of the situation on the home front that makes her ugly.
The script is authentic and twisted to a conclusion that I didn’t expect. It was anchored in a reality that, typical of Blue Tongue productions, somewhat adheres to generic plot devices, but is informed in a tangible reality that packs a punch. The film’s main (and slight) weakness was that it felt like it slowed the steady and tight pacing of the opening acts in the early stages of the final act.
Wish You Were Here is a realistic and tense mystery. The performances by the three leads Edgerton, Price and Palmer are raw, real and beautiful. And it’s a fantastic debut from director Kieran Darcy-Smith, whose poetic compositions compliment the thematic contrasts of the unfolding story.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film **** / Movie ***
Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the castleco-op.com. Follow him on Twitter here:@blakeisbatman.