Magic Magic

**1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Worth seeing for the performances but ultimately confusion reigns."

Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic - the former shot by writer/director Sebastián Silva and several of the Magic Magic cast members while they waited for funding to be finalised for the latter - offer a sort of yin and yang of drug trips. This makes it very hard and something of a shame to split them into individual reviews, as both inform the other and work better in combination than separately. Perhaps some spirited distributor along the line will collect them as a double-bill.

Both focus on 'innocents' - a better word might be antagonists - abroad, Americans in Chile who struggle to fit in with the alien surroundings. But while Crystal Fairy is more concerned with the shifting relationships of a group of people on a trip to find and take a drug than with chemical mind-altering, Magic Magic comes to focus in on someone who is having a bad trip in every sense of the phrase.

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Both boast the same successes of atmosphere in their early stages and teriffic performances, but also similar failures of structure as Silva's carefully crafted films come badly undone in their final acts. While Crystal Fairy just about manages to overcome its problems by delivering on an emotional level. Magic Magic is not so lucky, despite excellent central performances by Juno Temple and Michael Cera (who also gives a stand-out turn in Crystal Fairy).

Cera, playing against his usual type in both movies, is a cast-iron jerk, who while initially seeming merely unlikeable, manages to take his character Brink to the brink of darker and more disturbingly psychological territory - the ambivalence of his characters both here and in Crystal Fairy is what gives the films an extra kick. While Brink is almost blissfully unaware of his inability to see the world from anything other than his own perspective, Temple's Alicia is shell-shocked by the way her surroundings are affecting her from the start. Arriving on the red eye from the US on a visit to her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) that marks her first trip abroad, she's already strung out and finds her nerves jangled further as she is almost immediately bundled into a car by Sarah for a road trip with a group of people she has never met.

When Sarah abruptly tells her that she needs to go back to the city, Alicia is desperate to go with her but, instead, finds herself forced to head out into the wilds with Brink, Agustín (Agustín Silva) and Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno). Her trepidation and lack of sleep begin to spiral into paranoia as, all the time we wonder whether Barbara, Brink and Agustín are simply toying with her because she's the nearest mouse to hand or if, in fact, Alicia is losing her marbles.

Silva handles the initial slow-build well, lending a creeping dread to situations which should be anything but sinister, such as a diving trip to a nearby rock, with Temple's jittery, wide-eyed performance and growing animosity to the sexually gauche, or possibly predatory, Brink chopping up the psychological waters. Silva also employs sound to great effect - with Minnie the Moocher, the whimpers of a puppy and the sound of birds all used to amp up the tension.

Just as the atmosphere reaches boiling point, the film, which has kept us with Temple all along, suddenly becomes crazier than she is. Many will be unwilling to take the plunge with its last 20 or so minutes, which after the careful shifting tone of the earlier stages that blend black comedy and thriller elements so successfully, suddenly goes off at a full-on hysterical tangent that feels more like a lack of inspiration than a successful conclusion. Worth seeing for the performances but ultimately confusion reigns.

Reviewed on: 17 Aug 2013
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A young American starts to unravel on a trip to Chile.
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Director: Sebastián Silva

Writer: Sebastián Silva

Starring: Michael Cera, Juno Temple, Emily Browning, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Augustín Silva

Year: 2013

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Chile


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