Film Title: Magic Magic
Director: Sebastián Silva
Starring: Juno Temple, Emily Browning, Michael Cera, Catalina Sandino Moreno
Running Time: 97 min
Chilean director Sebastián Silva previewed two films featuring Michael Cera at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Both showcase the American actor’s commendable capacity for self-deprecation. In Crystal Fairy he plays a jerk discomfited by the presence of Gaby Hoffmann on a Chilean road trip; in Magic Magic he plays a jerk discomfited by the presence of Juno Temple on a Chilean road trip.
The films – and Cera’s jerks – could not be more contrasting. Crystal Fairy was a comedy with a sinister secret. Magic Magic is a sinister psychodrama with an unsettling sense of humour.
The film casts Temple as Alicia, a shaky, vulnerable American visiting her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) in Chile. At least that was the plan. Sarah quickly leaves our jumpy heroine to experience a hellish road trip with three callous companions: mocking Agustin (Agustín Silva, the director’s brother), disdainful Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and weird Brick (Cera).
Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher plays on a loop as the horrible trio squabble over a puppy who they briefly adopt before abandoning the creature by a roadside. Animals don’t come out well in Magic Magic: Brick later laughs as he shoots a parrot. Or does he?
Although the film never gets as interior as Polanski’s Repulsion, there are clues from the get-go that the sleep-deprived Alicia is delusional. Co-cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Glenn Kaplan add somnambulist notes with hypnotic camera work that, as with magic pictures, seems to stare out beyond the surface composition.
Temple made her name as American cinema’s skank par excellence (see Kaboom, Killer Joe, Afternoon Delight) , but there’s something of an EM Forster heroine in her portrayal of mounting distress. A leg-humping sheepdog and Brick’s endlessly inappropriate sexual references both repulse and terrify the girl. As her mind becomes increasingly fractured, that subtext comes increasingly to the fore.
Temple is a standout, but all the players all do great work. And Magic Magic’s odd denouement is a dramatic curveball that smacks the viewer square in the face.