As the lead actress in Magic Magic, Juno Temple brings the same wet-eyed vulnerability she displayed as the trailer trash daughter in the recent, excellent Killer Joe. This 2013 Sundance entry from Sebastian Silva––about a young woman experiencing a schizophrenic episode while on a Brazilian vacation with strangers––is anchored by Temple’s increasingly paranoid, ultimately heartbreaking performance. Magic Magic may not be a horror movie in the conventional sense, but as a vivid depiction of the downward spiral of mental illness, it’s unrelentingly scary.
After weeks of international travel, Temple makes a stop in South America to accompany cousin Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) on a vacation with some friends. When Browning unexpectedly returns to town due to some mysterious obligations, Temple is forced to road-trip with the strangers alone to a secluded cabin in the woods, where she’s subjected to the passive-aggressive flirtations of a vaguely creepy Michael Cera.
Without her cousin to offer moral support, Temple begins to suspect that the gang is deliberately mocking her, and her behavior grows even more erratic as the days progress. Using clever sound design and repeated visual motifs, Silva’s feature has a way of simulating mental illness in both the best and worst possible ways. As Temple’s character slowly comes apart, so does the audience. Yes, at times Magic Magic seems intent on driving viewers mildly insane, but that’s the the entire point. Silva wants to put you there.
It can be awfully hard to convey craziness in a movie without coming across as trite or manipulative, but Magic Magic is admirably sincere it its approach. Ranking alongside similarly horrific depictions of mental breakdown like Repulsion, The Tenant, and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Silva’s passion piece is visceral, thoughtful, and terrific. Strongly recommended for the half-crazy horror junkie.