I'm a QBI (Queenslander born interstate) and like to write about things that inspire me in my adopted hometown. Living by choice in the inner southside of Brisbane.
The old standard postcard scrawl "Having fun – wish you were here!" takes on a new twist with this Australian production starring Joel Edgerton as Dave, the family man who is trying to hold it together back home in Sydney after returning from a holiday in South-East Asia that went terribly wrong.
The film Wish You Were Here launches as a bright visual and sensual feast, perhaps in retrospect with a lurking undertone that there is something we don't know. Dave and his pregnant wife Alice (played by director Kieren Darcy-Smith's real-life wife Felicity Price, who co-wrote the film with him) join Alice's rather flaky younger sister Steph and her new boyfriend on holiday in Cambodia. They appear to be fairly typical Australian holidaymakers, innocents abroad you might say, splashing their cash about and letting their hair down as Western tourists who can afford it all in a developing country where the locals mostly live in poverty and squalor abounds. Steph's new boyfriend Jeremy, played by Antony Starr, who seems to have local connections, explains that his trinket export business is lucrative, which the trio accept on face value.
As tourists, Dave and Alice see the poverty but they don't really grasp its seedy side, its desperation, and why would they? They are only here briefly, and they are enjoying the easy ride their dollars afford them. The film cleverly conveys the vibrancy and chaotic tempo of South-East Asian street life – the crazy mish-mash that sees elephants plodding along in the midst of peak hour traffic, the strange insects and other fauna cooked on display at street stalls, everything available and at all hours if you have the money, and everywhere the mantra "Buy, buy, buy".
Bit by bit events unfold, as the viewers are given glimpses of what transpired in a final hedonistic night of alcohol, drugs and wild celebrations on a Cambodian beach. Back in Australia, it emerges that something went terribly wrong that night. But what? Only Dave and Alice have returned to collect their kids from Alice's mother while Steph has stayed on because her new boyfriend Jeremy has been missing ever since.
Dave and Alice's family life begins to buckle under the strain of the events of that night that were fuelled by drugs and drink. Like a memory returning, the viewer is given flashes of the night's events, the only bits that Dave will allow himself to remember, or is it because he was so smashed that's all he can remember? The Australian Federal Police become involved and are digging for the truth, some dodgy dudes seem to be following Dave's car around, and as if that weren't enough, Steph returns and brings with her a further complication that will strain family relations to breaking point.
The film builds the suspense masterfully, teasing the mystery out in the style of a psychological thriller. It's hard to believe that this is Kieran Darcy-Smith's directorial debut. The cracking pace of the film owes a lot to Jason Ballantine's skilful editing and for the vibrant, lush, but eerie and unsettling look and feel, cudos must go to cinematographer Jules O'Loughlin.