From the opening montage alone, it’s clear that Australian director Kieran Darcy-Smith plans to play his cards close to the vest in this maddeningly underwritten thriller/domestic-drama hybrid. Cutting from neon-streaked sequences of the four principals holidaying in Cambodia to cryptic shots of the protagonist, Dave Flannery (Joel Edgerton), staggering shirtless and bloodstained through a pre-dawn landscape, the prologue is pregnant with portents and possibilities. Unfortunately, the initial promise isn’t quite carried through to the end.
The setup is established with economy and skill by the talented cast and Darcy-Smith’s fractured yet fluid chronology. Dave and his pregnant wife, Alice (Felicity Price), decide to take a break from their kids, accompanying Alice’s sister, Steph (Teresa Palmer), and her new boyfriend, Jeremy (Antony Starr), on a Cambodian vacation. After a night of delirious partying, they discover that Jeremy has gone missing. The local authorities fail to make any progress so the trio returns to Sydney to try and move on with their lives. The prologue has already clued us in to the fact that Dave knows more than he’s letting on, and gradually accumulating revelations about various sexual and drug-related transgressions muddy the already murky waters, threatening to destroy the Flannerys’ marriage.
Darcy-Smith juxtaposes the present-day Sydney timeline with the Cambodian-set flashbacks ably at first, unveiling clues about the fateful night Jeremy went missing while ramping up the familial tensions between Alice and Dave. Nonlinear mysteries, however, turn on the payoff delivered by the convergence of dual timelines and, in this case, the labored plot machinations of the second half announce the anticlimactic nature of that moment well before its arrival. The screenplay, written by Darcy-Smith and Price, feels reverse-engineered from its pedestrian conclusion, the contrivances (infidelities, compromised pregnancies, car accidents) coming thick and fast after the 45-minute mark. It doesn’t help that all the characters are oddly unsympathetic, even the much-wronged Alice, who inexplicably decides to take her frustrations from a difficult situation out on her children, unborn and otherwise.
But the film, during a series of visceral arguments, does illustrate the dissolution of the Flannerys’ marriage with discomfiting honesty, thanks largely to some compelling performances. Edgerton, a strong visual presence, conveys Dave’s sense guilt and anguish with the same mesmerizing understatement he exhibited in Animal Kingdom and Warrior. And Palmer and Price make up for their characters’ often improbable behavior by investing them with a striking degree of emotional authenticity. Pity, though, that the strengths of the film’s cast is unable to overcome Darcy-Smith’s pairing of tediously conventional third-act reveals with a Spielbergian resolution that smacks of mawkish superficiality.