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Wish You Were Here

2013 | 89 min | R | 2.39:1

Wish You Were Here


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Theatrical release date

 07 June, 2013

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Wish You Were Here Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 6, 2013

There’s an effective feeling of unease that hangs in the air of “Wish You Were Here,” a mystery film of sorts that walks a rough path toward tragedy. It’s a vacation-gone-wrong story, but one that’s not interested in generating fear, just unbearable tension as a simple journey into a foreign land proves disastrous, yet the participants refuse to divulge the details of their unraveling. Tightly constructed and honest with character relationships, “Wish You Were Here” is a riveting study of guilt and moral corruption, wisely using disorientation to sustain interest in the bleak proceedings.

Married with two kids and another on the way, Alice (Felicity Price) agrees to accompany little sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) and boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr) on a Cambodian vacation with husband Dave (Joel Edgerton). Taking in the sights, the food, and the drugs, the group has a wild time while on break from their stressful lives, with Alice and Dave trying to get to know Jeremy and his export business better between bursts of booze and chemical distractions. When Steph’s love goes missing during the outing, the trio returns home to Australia without answers, with Dave particularly determined to avoid questioning from federal authorities, while a damning secret shared with his sister-in-law sends Alice into a downward spiral, urging her to deal with Jeremy’s puzzling situation to the best of her ability.

“Wish You Were Here” is a film sliced up into fragments of storytelling, intentionally scattered around to keep concentration off the mystery at hand. It’s confusion superbly orchestrated by director Kieran Darcy-Smith (who co-scripts with star Price), using flashbacks to dissect the troubled Cambodian tour while the present surveys total emotional wreckage, with Dave shell-shocked for reasons not immediately understood, while Steph is hysterical with grief and shame, unable to turn to her sister in this time of great need. The viewer doesn’t comprehend much at the opening of the picture outside of vivid vacation highlights, including the consumption of exotic foods, visits to grim historical locations, and the downing of ecstasy pills in an effort to jumpstart the nightlife celebration. We also grasp the dark aftermath of the trip with starling immediacy, informed that Jeremy is missing, with the surviving threesome unable or unwilling to account for his whereabouts.

It’s a compelling first act for “Wish You Were Here,” establishing Steph’s banishment from Alice’s sibling comfort, while Dave struggles with paranoia and deception as authorities attempt to piece together a portrait of Jeremy, digging into his work and life without many leads to chase. Although it carries itself as a domestic drama of escalating friction, the picture actually works more interestingly as a puzzle, observing the players fight honesty and responsibility to protect themselves from unknown forces. The bewilderment clicks with surprising ease, building three distinct personalities dealing with the enigmatic loss in different ways, working through feelings of betrayal and confusion as the days pass and once consistent routines begin to erode as dishonesty assumes control, destroying family bonds.

There are turns to “Wish You Were Here” that can’t be discussed in full, but it’s safe to report that Darcy-Smith does take the material down some shadowy avenues to explain why Dave’s reacting so inconsistently to the absence of Jeremy. Also appreciated is outside perspective from the missing man’s parents, an elderly pair Alice visits to comfort, only to realize such an immensely emotional task is beyond her control. While the screenplay works to a satisfying conclusion, the feature is most convincing when isolating silent scream moments, forcing the characters into difficult and initially destructive choices.

Lead work from Edgerton, Price, and Palmer is textured and honest, never carried away by melodramatic impulses. The acting successfully supports the hostility, creating a swell of discomfort that builds steadily, making “Wish You Were Here” more devastating in the long run, anchored by a deep sense of agitation, amplifying the disquieting questions and revelations that detail this consistent effort.

Starring: Felicity Price, Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer (I), Antony Starr
Director: Kieran Darcy-Smith

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