Director: Sebastián Silva
Runtime: 97 minutes
With his two films premiering at Sundance Film Festival, both shot in Chile with director Sebastián Silva, it’s clear that Michael Cera is intending to step into new comedic ground. His drug trip comedy Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus was featured as the opening night film of the festival and now a darker, more uncomfortable experience has arrived soon after with the follow-up, Magic Magic.
On the outside it may look like Cera is the leading man in this adventure, but Silva actually centers his story around Alicia (Juno Temple, in one of the indie darling’s best, most complex roles yet). Playing cousin to Sarah (Emily Browning), she joins the Sucker Punch actress on an adventure through Chile with her boyfriend and the peculiar Brink (Cera), a friend from America. Right off the bat, it’s clear that Alicia is not having a good time on the trip and as reality begins to shift, our perceptions of who is causing her chaotic state becomes less and less clear.
Aside from Temple’s performance its Christopher Doyle‘s cinematography that sells this world, conveying stark nighttime shots that are characters can seemingly disappear from at any second, as well as a myriad of carefully composed frames, especially in the local residence of our characters. Unfortunately, Silva’s script is not up to snuff, as the first half meanders, attempting a slow-burn build-up that keeps a audience at arm’s length, never feeling completely involved in the events that are occurring on screen.
After this half-way point Silva effectively begins to capture his audience when things start to take a turn for the worse, beginning when Alicia is being coaxed to jump into a lake by her “friends,” then heightened during the most affecting scene of the movie, a mysterious display of hypnotism on our main character. Actions carried out by our lead are denied by those around her and our anxiety to uncover the truth builds and builds. During these spare moments we are being put directly into Alicia’s deteriorating psychological state — her motivations are unclear as the reality of the events on screen.
Alongside Temple, Cera plays against type as an oblivious, obnoxious teenager and is able to keep us on guard when it comes to what he’ll do next. As the third act takes a wild turn, Magic Magic‘s atmospheric qualities in both surroundings and mental perception can effectively put one into a state of uneasiness and fear, but its faltering, monotonous build-up undercuts what could have been an infinitely more powerful finale.
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