Whilst it is well known that nepotism is a surefire way to get a start in the film industry it seems that belonging to another sort of family, the filmic collective, is also a pretty great way to get things moving as a newcomer. Blue Tongue Films, who can be seen as the Australian equivalent of the similarly successful American company Borderline Films, have used their communal approach to filmmaking and promotion to make a name for all of their members, with David Michôd, the director behind 2010’s Animal Kingdom being the obvious standout. Wish You Were Here, Kieran Darcy-Smith’s feature debut, is unlikely to have the same impact.
If the films of this collective can be seen as products of a new wave of Australian independent filmmaking, then Wish You Were Here can be seen as a product of the DSLR generation. The whole thing is shot with that very low depth of field, washed colour, lens flare heavy, music video aesthetic, and it all looks lovely, especially that introductory montage put together like a vimeo travel video. This aesthetic though can be wearying, with almost everything that comes out of Sundance having a similar feel, but fortunately there is a purpose to its presence in this film. The washy, synesthetic quality of DP Jules O’Loughlin’s style here contributes to the sensual haze of the disastrous trip and aftermath the film portrays.
Tracking events on a week-long holiday to Cambodia (and their troubled aftermath) that married-with-kids thirty-somethings Alice and Dave (Joel Edgerton and Felicity Price) take spontaneously with Alice’s sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) and her mysterious and suspect new boyfriend Jeremy (Anthony Starr), Darcy-Smith’s debut tackles the feelings of guilt and discomfort that the married couple have as they try to continue with life back home in Sydney after things on the trip go awry and Jeremy goes missing. Joel Edgerton - brother of the group’s founder stuntman/director Nash - is on very impressive form here, as is his on-screen wife (and off-screen wife of Darcy-Smith; such is the unending incestuousness of the filmmaking collective apparently) Felicity Price. Their performances anchor the film with a structurally challenging non-linear narrative; Edgerton in particular is fantastic as the wandering, quietly troubled presence of Dave, the husband trying to establish a sense of normality after the couple’s return home is weighed upon heavily by the toll of the trip’s unexpected events. Edgerton - coming off similarly strong turns in both Animal Kingdom and Warrior - smokes a lot of cigarettes on beautiful Sydney balconies and ripples with an undercurrent of brooding, volatile intensity.
The problem with the film though lies in this structure. Darcy-Smith starts his film with the fated trip, intentionally leaving out large portions of the events. As he reveals more through fractured chunks of narrative, playing out the holiday setting like reconstructions of memories in a docu-drama, and the home setting as more conventional psychological drama, he creates a compelling narrative structure that creates a real yearning for revelation. That trick of replaying a scene with more of the events that came before or after it added in works to good effect here, creating a sense of genuine intrigue and tension over what must eventually be exposed. The problem with this approach is that it puts a lot of pressure on the eventual reveal. If that reveal isn’t good enough, rewarding enough, and believable enough, then the entire film falls somewhat flat and all that the audience has invested feels wasted. In Smith’s film, this is unfortunately the case. His conclusion is not rewarding enough to justify the amount of investiture that his mounting tension and the fantastic performances of his actors have created, and this is a shame.
Despite this, it’s a commendable effort, and another great example of why Joel Edgerton is set for great things. Hopefully Darcy-Smith’s follow up will have all the parts of the puzzle fit, rather than leaving a niggling gap in the last quarter.