Wish You Were Hear sort of blind sided me. That doesn’t happen very often.
I’d been hearing about it for a while without actually putting all the pieces around it together: an Australian made suspense, partly shot in southern Cambodia, backed by Blue Tongue Films, the outfit behind Animal Kingdom and The Square, two solid local crime films I’d favourably reviewed on this site previously.
I can’t say too much about Wish You Were Here without giving away the plot. It fits nicely into the genre of suspense film dealing with what happens when nice middle class white people go somewhere exotic and exciting, a place where they’re freed from the expectations of their everyday lives, and behave badly, with serious consequences for their mental and physical health.
In this instance, the place is the tourist beach resort of Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s southern coast. The nice middle class people are two couples, pregnant Alice (Felicity Price) and her husband Dave (Blue Tongue regular Joel Edgerton), and Alice’s Younger sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) and her charming and mysterious boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr).
Their exciting, carefree holiday adventure is brilliantly established in the first moments of the film, culminating in a drug fuelled dance party. Next thing we see is Dave staggering half naked and blood stained through the harsh dawn light. Jeremy has disappeared and everything has changed.
The story moves back and forth between their time in Cambodia and post-holiday Sydney where Dave, Alice and Steph try and deal with the ramifications of what happened the night of the party. The truth eats away at family and emotional bonds until the two worlds, quite literally, collide with each other.
Wish You Were Here is by no means flawless but I liked this film a lot. I liked it because it takes risks, because it tries to do something different to a lot of other Australian films, because it’s beautifully filmed and, for the most part, well acted. I particularly liked the fact that part of it was shot in Cambodia, the location of my upcoming crime novel and a place that just doesn’t get enough attention in crime fiction and film, far as I’m concerned.
I was also impressed by first time director Kieran Darcy-Smith’s depiction of Cambodia. Sure, there’s a degree of fetishism, like there is in most Western films set in the developing world. But Darcy-Smith also captures how the gap between the haves and have-nots in Cambodia can be so wide, yet for various reasons obscured in the eyes of most Westerners and the disastrous consequences that can flow from this.
There’s a well-worn pattern in Australian cinema, right back to Bruce Beresford’s wonderful heist movie, Money Movers in 1979, that sees first time directors dabble in genre film before going onto to do more mainstream and usually less interesting work. I’ll be curious to see which direction Darcy-Smith takes.