×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Magic Magic

Meticulously acted, gorgeously shot and hilariously insightful about the strange, inarticulable ways people can get on one another's nerves, this psychological thriller takes its premise to surprising, darkly comic extremes.

With:
With: Juno Temple, Michael Cera, Emily Browning, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Agustin Silva. (English, Spanish dialogue)

Discovering in Michael Cera an impish ally he can use to drive other characters crazy, Chilean director Sebastian Silva (“The Maid”) made two bilingual features with the star back-to-back, bringing both to the Sundance Film Festival. Although “Crystal Fairy” earned an opening-night berth, once the dust settles, the sublimely unclassifiable midnight offering “Magic Magic” is destined to be remembered as “the good one.” Meticulously acted, gorgeously shot and hilariously insightful about the strange, inarticulable ways people can get on one another’s nerves, this psychological thriller takes its premise to surprising, darkly comic extremes, though its non-genre approach keeps things niche.

Cera may not be the protagonist, but he’s certainly the pic’s most interesting personality as Brink, an attention-seeking American in Chile who obnoxiously flaunts his grasp of the local language and customs in the face of newcomers. When Alicia (Juno Temple) arrives, clinging to her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) to help ease her discomfort with her new surroundings, Brink titters rudely and cracks inside jokes at her expense in Spanish.

Early on, Brick represents such a uniquely unnerving character — a collection of weird tics and inappropriate sexual energy — it’s hard to process the subtle drama unfolding around him. Although Alicia flew in to spend time with her cousin, Sarah almost immediately bows out to attend to a personal problem, leaving the awkward Alicia to head south for a few days with her hypnotism-obsessed b.f. (the director’s brother Agustin), his taskmaster sister (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and the wild card that is Brink.

Ultimately, the success of Silva’s gripping chemistry experiment depends on the highly unstable dynamic he maintains among Alicia and her housemates. The director is hyper-attuned to the way in which every little detail edges things toward hysteria, while keeping the reactions of the characters compellingly unpredictable. The film never reaches the subjective, coming-apart-at-the-seams feel of “Repulsion” or “The Shining,” but it shares the goal of capturing the gradual unraveling of a seemingly rational mind.

“Magic Magic” sneaks up on auds, since neither the characters nor the viewer is capable of diagnosing the severity of Alicia’s condition. Here, once her mental agitation passes the point of no return, the consequences aren’t played for shock, but for a profound sense of tragedy that echoes last year’s “Beyond the Hills.”

At first, Alicia merely seems to be suffering from sleep deprivation and a slight persecution complex. Little things seem to set her off, as when Brink tries to adopt a mangy puppy from the side of the road, which puts the whimpering creature’s fate on her conscience, or worse, the way he shoots parrots for sport once they reach their destination, despite the fact that the birds’ constant squawking becomes an inescapable cacophony in her head.

Eventually, Sarah catches up with the group, restoring a measure of stability to Alicia’s high-anxiety vacation, although by this stage, whatever is bothering Alicia effectively has its hooks in her. The role calls for extreme vulnerability from whoever plays it, and Temple amazes as her character regresses to a petulant, preadolescent state, aided by makeup that withers her lips and draws dark circles under her eyes. Cera proves the perfect foil — the world’s unlikeliest bully, rendered all the stranger by a k.d. lang-style haircut and what appears to be a jealous fixation on Sarah’s b.f.

Alternating between English and Spanish, Cera subverts his own likability at every turn, while drawing from his comedic background to milk his behavior for perfectly timed laughs. Never once at risk of becoming a traditional comedy, “Magic Magic” nevertheless delights in tonal clashes (as when the group squirms to Cab Calloway’s jazz classic “Minnie the Moocher” as driving music) and the sheer specificity of behavioral detail it captures.

With dual d.p.s Christopher Doyle and Glenn Kaplan lending their eye to the mesmerizing widescreen compositions, the film takes on an ethereal, otherworldly quality, allowing Silva to slip into Alicia’s mindset without auds detecting the stylistic shift. Unlike the more improv-based “Crystal Fairy,” “Magic Magic” remains convincingly naturalistic despite its rigorously scripted design, brilliantly circling around to include puppy cries, that creepy Calloway song and other early ingredients in its startling final stretch.

Magic Magic

U.S.-Chile

Production: A Braven Films, Rip Cord Prod., Killer Films production in co-production with Cine Sur, Chile Films. Produced by Frida Torresblanco, Christine Vachon, David Bernad, Mike White. Executive producers, Giovanna Randall, Eric Laufer, Joe Healey, William Winget, Michel Cera, Todd Remis, Pamela Koffler. Directed, written by Sebastian Silva.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Christopher Doyle, Glenn Kaplan; editors, Alex Rodriguez, Jacob Craycroft; music, Saunder Iurriaans, Danny Bensi; music supervisors, Laura Katz, Randall Poster; production designer, Amparo Baeza; art director, Mario Ricci; set decorator, Angela Torti; costume designer, Mark Grattan; sound (Dolby Digital), Claudio Vargas; supervising sound editors, Rick Chefales, Ruy Garcia; re-recording mixers, Michael Barry, Garcia; visual effects supervisor, Mark Russell; line producer, Brun Bettati; associate producer, Tara Moross; assistant director, Juan Rosas. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 23, 2013. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: With: Juno Temple, Michael Cera, Emily Browning, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Agustin Silva. (English, Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Woolsey Fire Malibu

    Many Malibu Areas Still Off-Limits for Filming After Fire

    The California Film Commission has maintained its ban on filming in several Malibu areas hit by the massive Woolsey fire in Southern California last month. The commission announced Tuesday that due to continued clean-up and repair work along Pacific Coast Highway, permits for filming on the highway are not being issued at this time. PCH [...]

  • Against the Clock

    Film News Roundup: Andy Garcia's Spy Thriller 'Against the Clock' Bought by Gravitas

    In today’s film news roundup, Andy Garcia’s spy thriller is sold, “Battlestar Galactica” gets a screenwriter, and Brooklyn Decker gets an award. ACQUISITION More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The Cane' Film Review: 'The Wedding' Gravitas Ventures has acquired North American rights to spy thriller “Against the Clock,” starring Andy Garcia, Dianna Agron (“Glee”), and Justin [...]

  • 'Pacific Rim Uprising' film premiere

    John Boyega in Talks to Star in Legal Drama 'A Naked Singularity'

    “Star Wars” actor John Boyega is in talks to star in the legal drama “A Naked Singularity” with Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions on board to produce. The movie is based on Sergio De La Pava’s debut novel, which centers on a successful New York public defender whose life begins to unravel after he loses [...]

  • Penny Marshall Dead Obit

    Remembering Penny Marshall, Who Forged Her Own Path and Paved the Way for Others

    She was a natural comedian — fearless and funny, willing to trade on her natural Bronx brogue to craft a sassy and street-wise character that was tailor-made for sitcoms. But Penny Marshall, who died Monday night at the age of 75, proved throughout her long career that she had so much more in the way [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    'Aquaman' Outpacing 'Wonder Woman' in Fandango Pre-Sales

    Pre-sales of “Aquaman,” which opens on Thursday night, are outpacing “Wonder Woman” at the same point in the advance ticket sales cycle on online ticketer Fandango. “Wonder Woman” opened with $103 million domestically during the June 2 to June 4, 2017, weekend on its way to a $412 million North American total for Warner Bros. “Aquaman,” [...]

  • European Union Placeholder

    Europe, Hollywood Hail Landmark E.U. Territorial Licensing Agreement

    Industry organizations and major companies in Europe and Hollywood welcomed Tuesday a high-level European Union agreement that in large part preserves producers’ ability to sell movies and TV shows on an exclusive territory-by-territory basis. Territorial licensing is a financial backbone of the film and TV business in Europe. Recognition of such licensing came last Thursday in [...]

  • Box Office: 'Aquaman,' 'Mary Poppins Returns'

    Box Office: 'Aquaman' Battles 'Mary Poppins Returns' in Crowded Holiday Weekend

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the most competitive time at the multiplexes. This weekend sees two very different heroes vying for the box office crown with “Aquaman” and “Mary Poppins Returns” both eyeing sizable debuts. “Mary Poppins Returns” is getting a head start by opening on Wednesday, though estimates show “Aquaman” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content