Directed by: Sebastian Silva
Starring: Michael Cera, Juno Temple, Emily Browning
It’s both a surprise and a relief to discover that Michael Cera is capable of being more than just the bumbling nerd who’s unlucky in love. Sebastian Silva, in his second collaboration with Cera following Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, utilises the generally likeable actor’s uncomfortable body language and striking eyes to good effect here, building an atmosphere of understated menace during Magic Magic’s first half. Sadly, the hard work of Cera, and the rest of the cast, is undermined by Silva’s disjointed script, which unfortunately goes from being tense to tedious as it wears on.
At the heart of the film is Alicia, who arrives in Chili for a vacation with her cousin Sarah. After Sarah is called back to the city for a couple of days, Alicia finds herself stranded on a remote island with Sara’s boyfriend and two of his friends. As sleep-deprivation and feelings of isolation begin to take hold of her psyche, Alicia’s grasp on reality begins to turn her holiday into a waking nightmare.
Silva’s screenplay is bursting with ideas, touching on issues of mental instability, hypnosis and abortion during a short 90-minute running time. In fact, it turns out there are too many ideas, with most of the narrative developing during an overcrowded second half. It’s here that the film unravels almost as quickly as Alicia’s mind. In its attempts to try and keep the tension burning, Silva’s congested plot gradually runs out of steam; diminishing the excitement built during the far superior first half. What we’re left with is a rushed final third that fails to capitalize on the film’s strongest element, its cast.
Juno Temple is an actress just waiting to take Hollywood by storm and from the moment we first meet Alicia, the fragility of her mind is clear. Temple’s nervous demeanour instils the film with unshakeable dread, meticulously building the tension as Alicia is left with people she doesn’t like, in a place she doesn’t know.
Despite assured performances from the rest of the cast, which includes Sebastian’s brother Agustin, it’s Temple and Cera that drive the film. His enigmatic presence is the perfect foil to her unhinged persona. As Alicia becomes more and more convinced of her isolation, Cera continually casts a creepy shadow over proceedings; it’s a confident addition to the actor’s repertoire, which he will hopefully continue to develop in the future.
It’s such a shame that Silva really doesn’t know what to do having gained such momentum. In trying to form a raw and honest piece on mental illness, the writer/director is unable to build on the tension of the film’s first half. Furthermore, the enhanced theatricality of the finale underpins Silva’s attempts to present the raw unpredictability of an unstable mind. It’s not awful, but it certainly isn’t magic.