Director: Sebastián Silva
Cast: Michael Cera, Juno Temple
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Never go on holiday with Sebastián Silva. That’s the main lesson learned from Magic Magic, which sees Michael Cera team up with the director again (following Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus) to tell the story of – yes – a holiday that goes awry.
Cera plays Brink, a friend of Agustin (Agustín Silva), whose girlfriend Sara (Emily Browning) is on holiday with him in Chile, accompanied by American outsider Alicia (Temple). The only catch? Sara suddenly can’t make it, leaving Alicia alone with the strangers.
Things start off awkward and get worse, as she struggles to sleep and soon becomes withdrawn. Matters aren’t helped by Brink, whose idea of being friendly mostly involves bullying.
Michael Cera excels at being a douche, dipping into Spanish every now and then so his target can’t understand. Sometimes we get subtitles, sometimes not; a neat touch from Silva, who doesn’t hold back on sharing Alicia’s social discomfort. Running his hand over the back of her chair, Brink’s behaviour lurches from creepy flirting to even creepier tormenting – a long way from Arrested Development’s George Michael. You dread to think what he’d do with a frozen banana.
It continues a string of roles Cera has chosen that offer a marked contrast from his typical on-screen persona; a natural extension of the nega-Michael portrayed so coolly in Youth in Revolt. Juno Temple is every bit as impressive, reminding why she’s one of the most interesting young actresses around. Together, their horrible chemistry fuels Silva’s vague exploration into the psyche of fear, even if other parts of the engine occasionally sputter.
As toying around with hypnosis and digs at American stupidity take their toll on Alicia’s delicate sensibility, she goes into a trance-like state. That pale-faced descent recalls Rosemary’s Baby, a feeling reinforced by the Polanski-esque nastiness between the two class groups. The challenge, though, is that unlike Rosemary, we don’t feel much sympathy for Alicia, who lacks Mia Farrow’s emotional depth. Nonetheless, Alicia’s falling part is creepy to watch – as much a cause of her own attitude as it is caused by her treatment at the hand of her companions.
Magic Magic may not convince right to the final frame, but the build-up is striking; moments involving a fire and – later – Michael Cera’s face are genuinely disturbing. Silva directs with a steady confidence, not quite handling the movie’s slip into weirdness but nailing the nervousness of social interaction, which comes to an head when the group go cliff diving. Edging towards the end of the rocks, Alicia can’t quite bring herself to take the plunge. The others encourage her to jump, but soon start throwing out taunts instead.
That uneasy experience is what you can expect while watching Magic Magic; a series of small steps towards the brink of madness. “They’re sadists!” she cries on the phone at point. You sometimes wish there were more to the film than that, but after 90 minutes of loitering about on the edge of its company, Magic Magic’s spell relies on your own willingness to conform. If you can take that leap, the water is pretty chilling.
Magic Magic is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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