Sebastian Silva's psycho thriller, starring Juno Temple and Michael Cera, will mess with your head
From the moment its repeating title flashes momentarily onto the screen, writer/director Sebastian Silva’s dark and unsettling drama runs deep with themes of perception, paranoia and tricks of the mind. Did we really just see that, or was it our imagination? Alicia (Juno Temple) is a young American student taking her first trip outside the US to visit her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) in Chile. Arriving jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, Alicia gets a brief shower before embarking on another long journey, this time by car to the rural south with Sarah, her boyfriend Agustín (Agustín Silva, brother to the director) and his friends, the seemingly permanently bad-tempered Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and Brink (Michael Cera), a gauche and camp American ex-pat.
Silva keeps tight control of the film’s tone, creating an atmosphere that is by turns intensely claustrophobic and bizarrely funny. Every incident on the initial journey feels like an omen, from Sarah’s sudden need to leave the group, to Barbara’s discovery of a sickly puppy on the roadside, to Alicia accidentally dropping Barbara’s bag as she gets off the motorboat at their remote destination. As in Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, or last year’s similarly psychological Berberian Sound Studio, the sense of portent intensifies as the film progresses. Silva weaves in an underlying suggestion that even the natural world around Alicia is in some way out of joint, or perhaps working against her, increasing her sense of panic and unravelling state of mind.
Continuing to prove her appetite for challenging material following Killer Joe, Juno Temple is excellent, raw and unpredictable as Alicia, while Michael Cera (who also executive produces) offers genuine surprise in a dark and unrestrained performance. Silva ultimately takes his characters to the strange place he has hinted at throughout, and delivers on the title’s promise with a kind of magic. Or is it madness?
Magic Magic is screening at Filmhouse, Mon 24 Jun as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013.