Kieran Darcy-Smith strikes a familiar cord with his feature film directorial debut Wish You Were Here. The story follows three Australian friends as they desperately try to remember one fateful night on vacation when their friend went missing in Cambodia. It taps into our deepest fear of traveling internationally, and getting lost in an unknown land without means of communication. Kieran brilliantly uses a non-linear storytelling approach which in turn leaves the audience in the middle of chaos. He throws us into the story right along with the characters. Just when you think you’ve figured it out he twists your idea on end forcing you to start from scratch.
Kieran co-wrote Wish You Were Here with his wife, Felicity Price, who also stars in the film. Kieran and Felicity introduce us to each character through postcard-esque vignettes of a blissful vacation leaving subtle clues as to where the story is leading. Married couple Dave (Joel Edgerton) and Alice (Felicity) head out on one last vacation before their third child is born. Traveling to Cambodia with Alice’s sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) and her new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr) they take in the sights and sounds of this beautiful and exotic land. Once we are comfortable with the characters and let our guard down Kieran and Felicity shake things up. We are drawn into the panic with a haunting scene of a disheveled Dave aimlessly walking through an empty field. Wild dogs scavenge through the remnants of what is left from a night of partying creating a perfect parallel to the characters. Leaving us with a feeling of dread the story shifts to Australia where the characters try to piece together the fragmented memories from their last night out. Fearing incarceration due to drug use they withhold information from the authorities which slowly starts to tear them apart.
I love how Kieran allows the audience to get lost in the silent moments of life. Many scenes are free of dialogue as the terror of what happened sinks in for the characters. They each handle the loss in their own way, but the more they try to get back into their daily routine the less their days make sense. Kieran seamlessly transitions small moments of Cambodia into the ever growing tension in Australia. As the search for their missing friend continues fear, bitterness, frustration and blame begin to destroy each character. They all begin to spiral out of control wreaking havoc on each other. As they slowly implode the truth emerges and their trust fractures.
Felicity plays the pregnant Alice who under normal circumstances is the glue that holds everyone else together. She bases her decisions on what is the most logical and best thing for everyone involved. Her motherly instincts always outweigh everyone’s need for spontaneity. It is interesting to witness how the one time she lets go of the rational and obvious decision it sets forth an unstoppable path of destruction. If she would have only trusted her gut … well then there wouldn’t have been a story. Without giving too much away, her simple decisions (to go on the trip and later going to bed early) were the catalysts for the downfall of everyone else involved.
Joel brings an interesting take to Dave who might otherwise get lost behind his strong wife. Dave is usually the kind of person who always seems to trip but never quite falls. Even though he’s not able to fully get things together he generally comes in just under the wire. Dave is drowning in good intentions which inevitably get him into trouble. When he makes a mistake he not only hurts himself, but he somehow manages to harm everyone within an arm’s reach. He is the perfect definition of “can’t win for losing”. But, on the flipside he is also the kind of person whose charm can typically get him out of any situation. This is why his friends and family stick with him. It’s hard to dislike Dave because you somehow feel sorry for him. He means well.
Teresa breathes life into Steph in such a way that everyone is drawn to her. Steph never thinks before she acts which is the polar opposite of her sister. They need each other. Alice brings stability to Steph whereas Steph forces Alice to let go of her desire for control. She is a carefree soul who enjoys living in the moment. It is hard for her to take responsibility for her actions, and she never thinks about the consequences. She dives in head first into the deep end without ever once stopping to think about what’s underneath the surface.
Antony plays Jeremy the new guy trying to find his place in this close knit group. If you want to win over your girlfriend’s family the best way is to invite them to vacation with you on a business trip. Jeremy is charming, handsome, and he also picks up the tab. It is easy to see why Steph has fallen for him. However, we really get a sense of who he is when we meet his parents. Beyond the obvious surface reasons for Steph’s affection Jeremy is also an intelligent, personable, kind and loving man. He appreciates life and the beauty in his surroundings. But, much like the other characters Jeremy also has his flaws.
I enjoyed Wish You Were Here mostly for the slow burn of realization. It was refreshing to watch a story unfold without being able to figure out the ending. We are so used to the typical way of telling a three act structured story that most of the time it is obvious where you are headed before the film even begins. This time I just sat back and tried to figure it out along with the characters. I had absolutely no idea where Kieran was taking us so it was fun to go along for the ride.
Check your local listings for Wish You Were Here and go enjoy a fresh take on a chilling thriller.