As part of their Retrospective program, MIFF has re released Chilean director Sebastian Silva’s 2013 psychological horror Magic Magic. The film has a classic horror premise: a group of young people road trip out to some far off island location with no reception and relatively detached from the world. Cue chaos. But even though this may seem like a familiar story I urge you to disregard the horror/ psychological thriller stamp that was used to market this film to hollywood and instead view it as a clever, claustrophobic and chilling drama.
Alicia (Juno Temple) has flown down to Chile to spend time with her cousin Sara (Emily Browning) and has barely stepped off the plane before she is whisked away on a road trip with a bunch of Sara’s Spanish speaking friends. The group is made up of Sara’s boyfriend, Agustín (the director’s brother, Agustín Silva), a moody and haughty Bárbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and Brink, a sleazy, attention seeking joker player by Michael Cera. Immediately you can tell Alicia is an outsider as the group’s extroverted personalities invade her personal space and quips from Barbara are completely unfriendly. Alicia’s only form of solace is with Sara who very quickly receives an urgent phone call and has to drive back to Santiago leaving Alicia alone. It is clear that Alicia has some form of social anxiety as she begs Sara to let her come along to Santiago, however Sara is adamant that she stay and have fun with the others.
And so Alicia finds herself in the midst of a social experiment, the fresh meat in a group of old friends. Coupled with the fact that she doesn’t understand Spanish, she is poked and prodded by Barbara while Brink openly flirts, touches and shows his interest in her. She is caught in between having to be polite but also not knowing how to express her discomfort. It is obvious that Alicia is also a city girl caught up amongst the reality of country Chile. Wearing a golden heart shaped necklace with a cross engraved on it, she represents innocence, and is unfamiliar with sickness, death or danger, not coping well with some of the more daring “activities” that the others partake in. Small laughable incidents become almost catastrophic to Alicia’s mental health with the fact that she is not sleeping adding to her paranoia.
The way that Silva deals with the unreliable narrator and the decision to include subtitles so that the audience are more knowledgeable than Alicia is incredibly clever. We are given information that Alicia does not receive and so then in turn, question Alicia as much as she questions the group. In this way there is an dynamic shift in the film when turn the focus from the friends to that of Alicia herself. Magic Magic works its way around the boxed in or trapped narrative that many horror and thrillers usually employ. However instead of manipulating the house and exterior locations to inspire fear of the unknown Silva instead uses an unreliable narrator to confuse and misdirect the audience creating an even more powerful “fear of the known”. This suffocating film exists within the realm of reality and uses interesting filmic devices to inspire a believable story and a shared paranoia within the audience.
As well as this, the performances from these young actors is worth note. The chemistry that they create between one another, the humour and the familiarity that is established as well as slightly sinister character under tonnes that eventuate into full blown episodes of desperation are completely engrossing. Juno Temple confidently embodies the instability and fear that Alicia comes to feel while also creating a complex and likable character that we sympathise with. Michael Cera and Emily Browning also give stand out performances.
Overall, Magic Magic performs outside of expectation and leaves the audience surprised at horrific events that can happen within the realm of everyday life and reality. Like a true magic trick you leave the cinema in an uneasy wonder asking yourself “did that really happen?”
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Magic Magic screened over the weekend at the Melbourne International Film Festival.