DIRECTED BY: Sebastián Silva
PLOT: An emotionally fragile American girl is trapped with four strangers in a vacation home in Chile when her friend ditches her to deal with personal issues.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The movie is good at creating a subtly unnerving atmosphere, but it doesn’t quite push far enough into eldritch realms earn a single Magic in its title, much less two.
COMMENTS: Magic Magic‘s scenario is a little like Repulsion-lite. Juno Temple plays the repressed girl with the disintegrating mind, with the major difference being that it is other people, not solitude, that makes her crack up. It’s also not clear that Temple’s Alicia fears men in general, although she certainly shudders at the touch of Michael Cera’s Brink (which is actually pretty rational behavior, given Brink’s awkwardly sleazy passes at her). Abandoned among strangers in a foreign country, Alicia comes off as merely shy, at first; but, she seems to be having difficulty sleeping, as well as relating to her fellows. She loves animals, but they don’t reciprocate, unless it’s to hump her leg. As the vacation goes on her paranoid behavior gets worse. She begins recalling conversations others don’t remember. The camera sometimes inhabits her subjectivity; when out of focus, her companions’ faces seem to be staring at her, studying her, but a more objective view shows them to be minding their own business. Most of the movie consists of a string of scenes that are very good at creating a subtle, unsettling atmosphere of social and sexual anxiety. The individual pieces are carefully detailed and observed, but the movie as a whole lacks the narrative hooks to draw you into the story, either emotionally, or as a psychological mystery play. The roots of Alicia’s problems, even her basic backstory, are barely hinted at, leaving this unsatisfying as a character study. The movie’s climax invokes Chilean voodoo, a left-field gambit that’s fairly intense and spooky on its own; but, like a potentially interesting and emotionally resonant subplot involving Browning’s character, it doesn’t seem to belong to the main narrative in a meaningful way. The overall result is a slightly unsatisfying movie with parts that are better than the whole. On the plus side, the performances by Temple and Cera are very good. Cera’s character is the socially inept inversion of Temple; overcompensating for his inadequacies with obnoxiousness, he talks a big game, but he may be even more repressed than Alicia.
Michael Cera made two movies back-to-back with director Silva while on a visit to Chile. In Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus, the somewhat better of the two films, he plays a neurotic American drug tourist foiled by a free-spirited hippie girl.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“To be sure, the movie isn’t much more than its atmosphere of clammy discomfort and a gonzo performance from Juno Temple, but those open to the experience will enjoy its gleeful strangeness.”–Tim Grierson, Screen Daily (contemporaneous)