Magic Magic – The Psychological thrill ride of Sebastián Silva. (Sydney Underground Film Festival Review)
I think the idea to cast Michael Cera as the villain in a psychological thriller might be one of the most inspired casting choices I’ve ever seen. Cera has one of those odd ball persona that makes you laugh (sure) but in an uncomfortable way it sits in a left-of-centre weirdness. Magic Magic was first shown at Sundance this year along side Crystal Fairy on which Cera and Silva worked together. There seems to be a nice partnership there, so it would be good to see this collaboration continue.
Magic Magic is a psychological thriller on its way to somewhere, and it never properly arrives, though you could be forgiven for thinking it is really a film about the promise of a few young and very clever artists. Sebastián Silva certainly knows how to get excellent performances out of his cast and DOP Christopher Doyle is in fine form with his ability to properly capture both the beauty of southern Chiles Lago Ranco as well as the chilling mystery a stranger in a strange land feels when suddenly out of their depth on foreign soil. But this is Juno Temples film all the way. It stars her, and her performance in absolutely spot on, in a very difficult role that carries the weight of the entire film. Michael Cera is her antagonist, a bumbling anti-social American whose social awkwardness leads to behaviors that inspire what seems to be a psychotic breakdown in the films protagonist.
Alicia is out of the United States for the first time in her life to visit her cousin Sarah in Southern Chile. When she arrives, Sarah informs her that they are going to a quiet cabin on an island for a holiday to enjoy isolation and each others company. The group includes Alicia (temple), Sarah (Emily Browning), Sarah’s boyfriend Augustin (Augustin Silva), his school friend Brink (Michael Cera) and Barbra (Catalina Sandino Moreno) a friend of the group. Alicia only knows Sarah, but she is still willing to tag along. Already emotionally fragile, when Sarah gets a phone call and tells the group she has to go back to school for two days and will return when she has taken care of something, Alicia starts to notice hostilities coming toward her from the rest of the group. These are exacerbated by her own social mess-ups; both accidental and deliberate. As the film progresses, Alicia becomes more and more unhinged, misreading all the social signals put out by those around her, leading the viewer down a path of never being sure if this is really happening to Alicia or if she is doing it to herself.
I read that Magic Magic is being used in psychology classes to examine the behaviors of Alicia and try to determine what might be wrong with her. It is a good question, and one the film’s title alludes to. There are several running themes in the film, cruelty to animals, amateur psychological experimentation, cabin fever, prescription drug taking, insomnia and isolation that all contribute to Alicia’s breakdown within the framework of her already vulnerable context. Her problems will manifest in her body, but does that mean they are physical? They are most certainly induced by her environment, but what environment; the woods, the foreign country, the language barrier or the very strange behavior of her companions?
A great deal can be said here for the excellence of Juno Temples performance. She is the key character, and without her perfect performance (I read that it can be compared to Mia Farrows in Rosemary’s baby and I think that is an apt description) the film wouldn’t work. Silva gets the very best from her, as she sinks further and further into her own world of interpretation. Magic Magic is definitely a film that lends itself to that psychological thriller genre with the most frightening locale being Alicia’s head. The actions of many of the other cast are points for examination also, with Michael Cera displaying homoerotic tenancies that contribute greatly to the unsettling nature of the film. But in the end, it is an unsatisfying conclusion that will let the film down, with it sort of petering out to nowhere after an intense, long, slow dramatic build up. If the ending was different, the film would have done very special things for Silva.
However, all that aside, it is good enough to go into the cult classic film bin, even though there are a few little editing problems. The build up is very creepy and Temple is very good Cera is very weird so this combination will leave you scratching your own head and making you wonder if you just saw what you just saw.