Despite what the marketing department tells you on the DVD box, Sebastian Silva’s Magic Magic is not a horror film. It is a psychological drama with thriller elements about a young woman losing her grip with reality. The menacing image of Michael Cera and the terrified photos of Juno Temple and Emily Browning on the cover imply some kind of slasher/stalker film, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Temple plays Alicia, a young American who travels to South America to visit her cousin, Sarah (Browning). Together they set off on a vacation with Sarah’s friends, the irritable Barbara, a grad student more interested in studying than having a good time, the noble Agustin (Agustin Silva), Sarah’s boyfriend, and the creepy Brink (Cera), a closeted gay man whose unrequited feelings for Agustin cause him to act in some cruel ways.
The five set off on a road trip to a secluded island. Fragile and unable to speak Spanish, Alicia feels isolated from the group, a feeling that only worsens when Sarah is suddenly called away from the trip for a few days. Against her better judgment, Alicia continues on the trip with these strangers and her mental state begins to deteriorate.
Once on the island, Alicia’s mind really starts to go, as she tries to decipher between reality and the tricks her mind is playing one her. By the time Sarah has rejoined the group, Alicia is teetering on the edge.
Temple is great as the bewildered Alicia. Her eyes are constantly filled with a mix of wonder and fear as she tries to figure out if what she’s seeing and hearing is real or her imagination. It doesn’t help that Brink is purposely fucking with her head and Barbara is constantly annoyed with Alicia’s behavior. Cera does an excellent job in a role that is nothing close to George Michael in Arrested Development, or any of the other roles he’s played that seem to be cut from that same mold. Agustin Silva, who is also the director’s brother, is quite good as the most heroic character in the film, not that any of these characters are so black and white to be called heroes and villains. Writer/director Silva has written realistic characters that make questionable/ignorant decisions.
As for Silva’s direction and visual style, he does a great job of keeping the viewer involved with the story. Although shot digitally, the film does not feel low budget or limited by the medium. There is a feeling of dread that hangs over Magic Magic, one that might scare away some people. But the action moves along at a quick pace and Silva keeps you on the edge of your seat. Magic Magic is also a thoughtful film that raises questions about spirituality and sanity. This is one that deserves to be discovered by a larger audience.