Fantasia Film Festival 2013: ‘Magic Magic’ carefully circumvents genre tropes to create a deep sense of unease

imageMagic Magic
Written by Sebastian Silva
Directed by Sebastian Silva
U.S.A./Chile, 2013

It is always an exciting prospect when new, young actors begin to make serious headway in film or television, proving their worth as performers and whose names cause movie goers’ head to perk at the mention that they are starring in an upcoming project. Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, to name only two such actors, had already gained certain popularity when they were cast together in Harmony Korine’s tripped out Spring Breakers. Along comes director Sebastian Silva with a peculiar, unexpected thriller entitled Magic Magic and starring a trio of recognizable talent: Juno Temple, Emily Browning and Michael Cera.

Alicia (Juno Temple) has just arrived in Chile to visit her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) who has lived there for some time already. The plan is to go up to a cottage she, some friends (Michael Cera, Catalina Sandino Moreno) and her boyfriend (Agustin Silva) have in order for the siblings to reconnect and relax. For Alicia, it is the very first time she has ever left American soil. Already slightly apprehensive about the idea of being away from home for an extended period of time, her nervousness is given an extra jolt when not only do her friends and boyfriend come across as slightly off to her, but Sarah receives word that she must stay in the city for an extra day to retake an unspecified exam. Suddenly, Alicia feels especially alone and begins to worry deeply about the her hosts’ intentions.

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Magic Magic is one of the stranger, tonally ambiguous American movies (co-produced with Chile, just to be exact) to be released in the last few years. Straddling the line between absolute farce and unsettling psychological thriller, Sebastian Silva demonstrates a capacity to tap into some very recognizable fears for the purpose of dramatic effect all the while demonstrating how silly said fears can be perceived sometimes.

The film is an occasionally kaleidoscopic, visually captivating depiction of psychosis, emphasizing the suffocating feeling of helplessness when a person, caught in a strange land with strange people, grows increasingly convinced of some inexplicable yet imminent danger to their being. To help with the task of conveying the eerie world Alicia believes she has stumbled into director Silva collaborates with not one but two cinematographers, Glenn Kaplan and Christopher Doyle, with sublimely strange results. Opening close up shots of the nature and animals which populate the small island the characters venture to shortly thereafter are, instead of beautiful in a heavenly sense, oppressive and imposing. Silva and his team create a world that is not only strange for the movie’s protagonist but for the audience as well. What would normally be welcomed as attractive and peaceful has suddenly been given a sinister coat.

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Equally impressive is Magic Magic‘s decision to not follow the traditional, Wicker Man blueprint of a lone character who, unbeknownst to them, steps into a world that wishes to eat them alive despite initially presenting itself under a kind guise. True enough, Sarah’s boyfriend and companions are somewhat off kilter, in particular Brink, play by Cera, who acts like a neurotic young man with little else than sex on the mind (caught in arrested development one might conclude?)The refreshing aspect about the story is how it is really is the character of Alicia who suffers from a serious problem, not her hosts. Her discomfort at being away from her traditional comfort zone, that being her homeland, triggers unhealthy suspicion towards everything and everyone around her, insomnia and eventually much, much worse. Naturally, Magic Magic is an exaggeration of the fear some people may experience when homesick, yet the analogy serves as the impetuous for an satisfyingly bizarre descent into sheer madness with its fair share of frightening and, yes, funny moments.

Juno Temple and Michael Cera are the real stars of Magic Magic. The other cast members commit to their roles as they should and give all around solid performances, but it is two aforementioned actors whom most people will be talking about when leaving the theatre. Temple, who already played a rather unorthodox character in 2012’s Killer Joe, excels as Alicia, a girl who from the first minute looks to be terribly uncomfortable in her own skin. There is attempt at balancing Alicia from time to time in order to remind the audience that she was, at some point in the past, a regular person, but by the midway point it is abundantly clear something is afoot with her. Cera, often the target of criticism regarding his inability to branch into roles that differ significantly from George Michael Bluth, is, in a single word, spectacular. Because of Cera’s natural tendencies and ticks there may be some subtle aspects to Brink that will still remind viewers of the actor’s most famous role, but in addition to being excruciatingly funny in Magic Magic, he is also quite creepy, something few could have predicted Cera as capable of pulling off.

It remains to be seen how the public at large reacts to Magic Magic. Much like was the case with Spring Breakers, the film has a several notable, young, beloved faces but is nothing like what fans of those actors may expectfrom them. It not only subverts expectations as far as the cast is concerned, but also in how the story plays out, making it twice as surprising. Sebastian Silva certainly brought the magic touch to this most off kilter of thrillers in recent memory.

– Edgar Chaput


The Fantasia Film Festival celebrates 15 years and runs from July 18th to August 7th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official website for the Fantasia Film Festival.

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-Edgar Chaput

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