In 2013 director Sebastian Silva gave us pensive drama Magic Magic. Boasting a kind of who’s who of young contemporary indie actors – Juno Temple, Michael Cera and Emily Browning – the film stands as a portrait of the varying stages of mental illness as Temple’s Alicia suffers a breakdown while away on holiday in Chile. It all sounds rather morbid on paper, and it’s pretty damn morbid on screen, too. But, Silva’s film is a pivotal exploration of the paranoia, loneliness and most importantly – danger – of unrecognised psychological problems.
Temple has built up her career since her St Trinian days in a number of independent flicks that can definitely come under the out-there status of a lot of art-house productions. She has had central roles in Killer Joe (alongside the veteran of kookiness Matthew McConaughey) and Horns and smaller, but no less impressive, turns in blockbuster fare such as Atonement and The Dark Knight Rises. In Magic Magic as Alicia Temple takes front, back and centre as she leads us through her journey from semi-normality into the unhinged realm of her mind as her health deteriorates. Interestingly – and rather boldly – Alicia is not particularly likeable, but Silva and Temple are sure to entice sympathy from viewers as her state worsens. What we view over 98 minutes is Alicia’s loss of her ‘self’ as she becomes a stranger to those around her. This element to the film holds a genuine sense of foreboding for we ask ‘Who is the threat?’, the last 30 minutes follows a kind of ticking time bomb structure as we await to find out the terrifying outcome we all know is coming.
Temple is certainly triumphant as a young woman encapsulated by paranoia and mental health issues. She balances moments of true joy and normality with sudden outbursts, which lends to a realistic depiction of a girl on the brink of desperation. For, depression has areas of light and dark and the actress is sure to represent both. Supporting her is the always wonderful, always kooky, and always downright eccentric, Michael Cera. A key name in the world of quirky dramas Cera is often recognised as the adorable underdog who rises up victoriously and steals the hearts of everyone involved. Here, he is far removed from that stereotype and instead plays a traveler who is, yes, both kooky and eccentric, but laddish and unthoughtful. He also portrays this youthful belief that he is immune to the troubles of the world. The latter is not an unlikeable quality, but it does lend to an unexpected naivety as Cera portrays Brink. Temple and Cera share an uncomfortable scene together which in many respects could be seen as sexual assault from a female to a male. Silva does not linger on this and the scene is not uncomfortably long, with no harsh camera angles. Instead Cera – Brink‘s – reaction is pondered upon and this signals the change in Alicia as she finally becomes a danger. Beyond this, the sudden and shocking act is a reminder of why mental health should be pin-pointed sooner, and never ignored. Silva should be congratulated on tackling the subject, despite the morbidity that comes with it here.
At only 98 minutes Silva’s somewhat daring feature still feels too long. Eeery and silent for the majority, Magic Magic is reminiscent of indie thrillers such as Preservation – which while far removed narrative wise, rely on silence and non-diegetic scores for effect. Effective? Yes. At times a little overbearing? Most definitely. Silva also appears to lose sense of what his film is about and the latter scenes become a miss-mash of confusing events which are not given enough explanation and are too surreal to be taken seriously. Like with a genuine reaction of ‘C,mon, really?’. That’s never the response you want from your audience.
Brimming with young and exciting talent and boldly exploring an often ‘taboo’ topic, Magic Magic is worth your time – but not necessarily worth repeat watching.