Alicia (Juno Temple) arrives in South America to vacation with her cousin, Sarah (Emily Browning). When Sarah is suddenly called away, Alicia is stuck on a remote island off Chile with three of Sarah's friends, including Brink (Michael Cera), an American exchange student with a sadistic streak. Bewildered, frightened, and unable to sleep, Alicia's reality becomes a nightmare from which there is no waking. Ancient indigenous rites, disturbing animal behavior, and captivating hypnotic trances come together in an intense exploration into the darkest corners ... when the games go too far, reality unravels with astonishing and deadly consequences.
Review by Louise Keller:
Don't let the opening tranquil imagery of birds, horses, clouds, mountains, a full moon and fireflies in the night sky fool you, this is an unsettling, scary experience. Having made its debut at 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Sebastián Silva's film is set in his native Chile and he invites us for a visit through the eyes of a vulnerable and naïve tourist. It's a terrifying scenario that does not start with one specific occurrence but as a cumulative result of many small incidents that are portrayed in a particular way. Silva's skill is allowing us to experience everything through the point of view of his protagonist, although things become tedious in the final reel, by which time I had totally lost interest. As for the cliff-hanger ending, audiences will be divided: some will be mystified, others like me, frustrated.
The establishment of the characters and the set up is the best part of the film. It does not escape us that Alicia (Juno Temple), in her first trip out of the United States is tentative. The fact that her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) leaves her alone with the local trio, who are anything but welcoming is already cause for concern. They speak in Spanish and generally exclude Alicia, who is already freaking out because there is no mobile phone reception and she believes she is surrounded by sadists. Agustin (Agustin Silva - the director's brother) wants to hypnotise her, Bárbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno) treats her with contempt and worst of all, Michael Cera as Brink is enough to tip her over the edge. His hair dyed black and his distinctive features menacing as he aims a gun, fools around and is generally irritating, Cera is most effective. Sleep deprived, traumatised, isolated and scared, Alicia is going through hell.
Silva uses less than predictable tools to create his unsettling effect. There's a dog that humps Alicia's leg, a bird that Brink shoots, sex in a graveyard, a sea jump from high rocks and psychosis-creating sleeping pills. These are some of the elements that are artfully and creepily woven together to provide a backdrop of terror. The performances are all terrific, with Temple persuasive as the fragile Alicia. Beware the scene involving black magic, a dead sheep and Temple in a topless state. You may not want your dinner afterwards.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It begins like a nature doco and ends like a nightmare. Sebastián Silva's imagination has conjured up a somewhat contrived scenario in which two young women are separated but seemingly only for the purposes of the plot - to leave one of them like a fish out of water in a strange country, with strange 'friends', the strangest being Brink (Michael Cera) ... on the brink of sadism, if you want to know. And he's gay. There's ammunition here for Cera to deliver a wonderful characterisation, at once repulsive and riveting. Which he does.
But Juno Temple still manages to steal the show with her gradual self-demolition as Alicia, a nice young blonde who begins to unravel and never stops. That is perhaps the most succinct way of summarising this screenplay, which in turns frustrates, bores and compels us.
Although flimsy as a story, the mood that Silva manages to generate is impressively creepy. He's studied film, clearly, and knows the intersection of fear and cinema. It's not quite enough, though, despite wonderful performances from a great cast - and not just the two mentioned above.
Emily Browning is efficient as Alicia's cousin Sarah, who takes her to South America for a trip, along with Sarah's boyfriend Augustin (Augustin Silva) and squeaky third wheel Brink, whose presence is a carefully managed and edgy irritant - good cinema, too.
There are as many effects through sound design as through action, and as many primitive touchstones as scary breakdowns - as well as a calculated 'mystery' emanating from a chilling but inexplicable performance by Catalina Sandina Moreno as the hostess in the remote forest cabin where much of the action takes place. The ending won't please many, but it fits the mood and the subtext: beware the magic.
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MAGIC MAGIC (MA15+)
CAST: Michael Sera, Juno Temple, Emily Browning, Catalina Sandina Moreno, Augustin Silva, Luis Dubo, Roxana Naranjo, Lorenzo Allapan
PRODUCER: David Bernard, Frida Torresblanco, Christine Vachon, Mike White
DIRECTOR: Sebastián Silva
SCRIPT: Sebastián Silva
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christopher Doyle, Glenn Kaplan
EDITOR: Jacob Craycroft, Alex Rodriguez
MUSIC: Danni Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Amparo Baeza
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Studio Canal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 28, 2013