REVIEW: MAGIC MAGIC / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: SEBASTIAN SILVA / SCREENPLAY: SEBASTIAN SILVA / STARRING: MICHAEL CERA, EMILY BROWNING, JUNO TEMPLE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Magic Magic: so good they had to name it twice? Not quite, but there is something strangely special about this psychological head trip into the mind of a seriously disturbed young woman. With hypnosis, herbal healing and paranoid delusions all playing a part, there might not be any narrative tricks up its sleeve but Magic Magic still has a few nasty rabbits to pull out of its hat.
Juno Temple stars as Alicia; after arriving in Chile and meeting her cousin Sarah (Browning), Sarah's Chilean boyfriend Agustín and his oddball friend Brink (Cera), she starts to slowly unravel as sleepless nights and paranoia begin to take their toll. Alicia is a fragile soul in unfamiliar surroundings (she has never been out of America) who finds herself alone with strangers when Sarah is unexpectedly called back to school. Agustín seems nice but Michael Cera twists his usual innocent persona as strange sadist Brink. When Alicia and her companions travel to a secluded house cut off from civilisation, it gradually emerges that all is not well with Alicia.
The story is relatively simple and offers little in the way of surprises. Don't expect magic, all out horror or the supernatural. Though there are plenty of hints at a more mysterious plot, Magic Magic remains only a gripping character study of paranoia and mental illness. Temple plays Alicia with a delicate vulnerability that is always on a knife-edge. She is unpredictable and terribly troubled and it is harrowing to watch her descend into madness.
Backing up her performance with edgy cinematography and uncomfortable sound design, director Sebastián De Silva puts you firmly in the mind of Alicia, forcing you to see the world as she does. It's a vital, unsettling masterstroke that makes Alicia tragic and completely identifiable. The script adds a dash of intrigue by surrounding Alicia with far from perfect and downright destructive personalities. Michael Cera is wonderfully weird as Brink; it is never clear what this wacky, drunken mess is up to. He is a wild card who is occasionally as sinister as he is funny. Meanwhile, Browning’s character has a secret of her own that she is keeping from Alicia.
At times, Magic Magic is genuinely chilling. Though the Chile setting looks inviting, with de Silva capturing some gorgeous scenery and stunning shots of the local wildlife, it’s often filtered with a dark edge. The house is imposing, the mirrors glare back at Alicia and even the lovely local sheepdog becomes a persistent threat to her fragile state of mind. Early on, a car trip turns unbearable when an abandoned puppy becomes a soundtrack of despair. Later, it's the endless sound of birds that drives Alicia to depression. It is relentless, oppressive and exhausting.
Though it appears that it might have a trick or two in store for the climax, the film's slightly barmy third act is rushed, strange and unsatisfying in its ultimate crushing inevitability. Michael Cera might add a couple of laughs into the bleakness but Magic Magic casts its real spell with a simply haunting portrayal of mental illness.
EXPECTED RATING: 7 out of 10