Rating: ★★★½☆

Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Wish You Were Here is a film that pulls the rug from under our feet right at the outset; a hedonistic montage of all the boozing, pill-popping and reckless abandon that takes place on a holiday to Cambodia is abruptly halted by a jolting cut to Dave (Joel Edgerton), walking shirtless through a desolate field, making the ironic meaning of the film’s title abundantly clear. When Dave and his wife Alice (Felicity Price) return home, it’s obvious that something isn’t right. Alice’s sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) also went on the trip, along with her new husband Jeremy (Antony Starr), who went missing one night and still hasn’t surfaced.

The anxiety-wracked face of Joel Edgerton’s Dave makes us instantly suspicious; did he kill Jeremy? His clandestine behaviour and eventual revelation that he drunkenly slept with Steph in Cambodia only heightens our unease; there’s clearly more that Dave isn’t saying, and we’re sure he’s involved. This early reveal is the first of many surprises in Darcy-Smith’s gripping film, which through flashbacks reveals the initial arrangements of the holiday, seamlessly cosseted into the narrative by way of some punchy editing. The slow reveal of the truth in flashback, juxtaposed with the increasing suspicion back home sees these two tense periods hurtle towards one another, as we are simply left to wonder how much worse things can get.

There’s arguably a slight sag mid-way once we think we know what has happened, and there are a few needlessly conventional thriller elements – such as Dave being stalked by a shadowy company – but our prevailing suspicion of Dave, and the enigma of the scenario, keeps it bounding along. Familial tension, meanwhile, becomes ever-more uncomfortable on both sides, and Darcy-Smith expertly plays the various points of anguish off against one another, right up to the harrowing reveal, a resonant exclamation point for sure. What really drives this drama home, however, is Joel Edgerton’s stellar performance, soaked in fear and angst, proving beyond all doubt why he is a viable commodity both in his native cinema and in Hollywood.

Joel Edgerton nurses the hangover from Hell in this superbly acted, impressively edited and consistently engaging Aussie thriller.

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This article was first posted on October 26, 2012