Every now and then a film will come along that I choose to see based purely on a particular cast member. Having recently seen and enjoyed Juno Temple’s performance in Afternoon Delight, I took the plunge and decided to give Magic Magic a go. The film, a Chiliean-American production written and directed by Sebastian Silva, is a dark psychological thriller about a young woman who travels to South America to visit a friend and, aided by a group of unusual supporting characters, very quickly begins to lose her grip on reality.
As it turns out, on this occasion my filmic gamble did not pay off. Magic Magic is far from the worst picture I have seen so far this year, but it is one of the most incomprehensible and unrewarding. The plot begins with our protagonist, the American Alicia, played by Temple, arriving in Chile for an unexplained and seemingly unwanted visit with her cousin and a group of friends comprising of both American and Chilean decent. In a hackneyed and badly realised plot device, cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) is forced to leave Alicia with this group of relative strangers including Brink (Michael Cera), Agustin (Agustin Silva) and Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno), none of whom she likes nor trusts. The unusual crew journey to a conveniently deserted area of Southern Chile and what follows is an utterly bizarre and under developed exploration in to paranoia, loneliness and mental breakdown, with Alicia’s psychological state diminishing by the hour amidst an unfamiliar and imposing set of surroundings. The narrative becomes a test for the audience of what is and what isn’t real, and a set of sequences take place that create an air of ambiguity around the reality of what we are witnessing on screen, and rather than hold one’s attention and interest, the direction that the plot takes only serves to test the patience of the viewers who have had to witness a potentially intriguing storyline turn in to a farfetched and inexplicable one. However, though the coherence and credibility of the plot certainly tails off towards the end of the film, one technical aspect of Magic Magic that is incredibly effective in immersing the audience in the atmosphere of the story is the use of sound throughout the narrative. A constant layering and bombarding of multiple sound effects are present from the beginning to end of the picture, arguably a device to mirror the intense feelings of Alicia’s state of mind, and the volume and sustained nature of the audial bombardment really impressively replicates feelings of claustrophobia and discomfort, at times making the film rather uncomfortable to watch. In this respect, at least, the filmmakers had some success.
Juno Temple does well in the lead role of Alicia, utilising her talent for displaying shattering fragility and vulnerability. Though the direction of the plot becomes almost farcical as it progresses, Temple nonetheless is required to portray the psychological unravelling of a young woman, and she does so with conviction and as much credibility as the bizarre narrative would allow. Emily Browning, a familiar screen face, is absent for the majority of the plot and therefore her enjoyable talents are criminally underused, leaving the screen time to be filled instead by Agustin Silva and Catalina Sandino Moreno, both of whom are solid if a little unremarkable. One truly interesting performance, though, is given by Michael Cera as the all round odd ball Brink. Cera has proved time and time again that he can play quirky in films like Juno and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but this time his signature quirk is combined with a decidedly sinister and almost predatory side to Brink’s personality. Cera manages to steal almost every scene to which he contributes, and though not the protagonist, I found myself more drawn to Brink and his under developed character than to any of the other on screen presences, the exchanges between he and Juno Temple being particularly engaging to watch. I would go so far to say that the film is worth watching for his performance alone, a mixture of charisma and creepy that is not easily forgotten.
Overall, Magic Magic is a film that promises a lot but delivers very little. The themes of psychological distress and twisted realities are ones with plenty of cinematic potential, but the bizarre and messy way that the filmmakers have gone about it in this instance results in a picture that leaves you unsatisfied on a plot level with more questions than answers. It is not completely without merit however, for the performances of some of the main cast and for the imposing use of sound, something at a level of which I have never quite experienced in a film before. I give the picture credit for ambition and for technical elements, but as a complete cinematic work it falls way short of any kind of large scale acclaim.