By Richard Haridy
March 18, 2014
Magic Magic is a bold, subversive and conclusively sadistic piece of work that implants a knot into its audience’s stomach before kicking them out to the curb with a brutal ending that withholds any sense of conventional catharsis.
Juno Temple stars as Alicia, a meek young girl who, travelling away from home for the first time, is in Chile visiting her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning). When Sarah is urgently called back to the city, Alicia is stranded at a remote cabin with Sarah’s boyfriend, his sister, and the annoyingly flamboyant Brink (Michael Cera).
For much of its running time, Magic Magic is excitingly inscrutable. Writer/director Sebastián Silva toys with several genre trappings but never plays his hand, leaving the viewer unsure of exactly what type of film they are watching. The first half presents itself as a magnificently tense thriller, while Alicia’s paranoia generated by the strangers around her grows increasingly suffocating.
As the picture progresses, Silva brilliantly pivots his narrative into Polanski territory, revealing an internal psychodrama that is infinitely more frightening than any potential external supernatural menace. Cera is a revelation playing the fidgety and irritating Brink, perfectly encapsulating a creepy socially-aggressive character familiar to us all. Temple, too, is extraordinary, evoking great empathy as Alicia slowly loses grip on reality.
It will prove a difficult experience for many. Silva is an expert manipulator but he is determined to offer his viewers little release. Much of the movie engenders a torturous anxiety in the pit of your stomach. A feeling that something terrible is just about to happen hovers constantly at the fringes and when that horrible thing eventually occurs it is more shocking and depressing than you could imagine. The climax jarringly cuts to black before one gets a chance to process it. It’s gut-wrenching stuff – genuinely horrific in a startlingly unsatisfying way.
Magic Magic is intricately designed to make its audience feel wholly uncomfortable, from cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s beautifully off-centre photography to the subtly disconcerting sound design. If you’re like me and enjoy horror films that make you feel odd, unsettled and generally unpleasant, then this is one of the best feel-bad experiences you could have.
Magic Magic will be available from Quickflix on March 19, 2014.