Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
Come to south Chile, they said. We’ll have a great time, they said. Such was not the case for Alicia, a nervous young girl played by Juno Temple in Sebastian Silva’s psychological thriller Magic Magic. The film played Sundance this year along with Silva’s drug-quest comedy Crystal Fairy and both films feature Michael Cera breaking his played-out awkward man-boy persona. In Magic (x2), Cera plays Brink, a menacing, lascivious American student in Chile who gets off on screwing with poor Alicia’s head. Or maybe he doesn’t. Is Alicia just mentally collapsing due to her insomnia, or are Brink and the other characters as sadistic as she claims they are?
After arriving in Chile to visit her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning), her and Sarah’s friends head out to an isolated island to vacation. Before they even reach their destination, Sarah is quickly called away for mysterious reasons and Alicia is left alone with Brink, Barbara, and Sarah’s boyfriend Agustin – three aggressively inhospitable strangers.
The cast is fantastic and there’s a real organic sense to the dialogue. The cast spent some time living together during the filming and the bond they developed comes across on screen in their interactions – as hostile as these interactions may be. Temple is the obvious standout as she displays an impressive range of wide-eyed naivety and stone-cold crazy.
Alicia’s alienation from the group is amplified when they frequently speak Spanish around her without having the courtesy to translate. When she’s around Barbara, who is always studying, Alicia can hardly breathe without being passive aggressively scolded for making too much noise. And ladies, look out for a Brink. He’s an incorrigible, obnoxious twerp who relentlessly hounds Alicia. Cera manages to take this otherwise unwatchable character and give him a touch of darkness that makes him sort of interesting. I’ve never been a big fan of Cera, so this is a great relief from his tired shtick.
Sleep never comes for Alicia once they arrive at the house and after a few days, she begins to unravel. It occurs slowly and effectively – culminating in a hypnotism scene that starts off darkly comical then quickly gets disturbing (thanks, Brink!). As tension builds, Sarah’s friends are unable to handle Alicia’s contrary moods.
It appears Silva had trouble as well. As the writer-director keeps it a mystery whether Brink and others are truly fucking with Alicia or she’s just losing her mind in this alien world, he fumbles the ending. I’m all for ambiguous endings – I prefer them in many cases – but the ending of Magic Magic is just frustrating. Like, sacrifice an animal frustrating. It’s worth a watch though, especially for the vaguely dark first two acts.
It’s a DVD.
All she’s got is a 15-minute making-of feature, but it’s a pretty good one. The focus of it is Silva’s relationship with the actors and how he let them organically develop their characters. Like I mentioned above, the gang really meshes well together on screen and it’s clear in this feature how important that was to Silva.