This Chilean adventure is anything but exotic as it starts out as an exciting psychological thriller. Compared to many other films in the same genre that espier to be creepy by quickly jumping to the scary part, Magic Magic written and directed by Sebastián Silva, does the opposite. The film takes its time building up the characters during a long car ride across Chile. Even if you want it or not, you get invested and quickly care about the characters since they are smoothly established as real people.
Already during one of the first scenes where Juno Temple’s character Alicia sits curled up in the bathtub, we know that there’s something wrong behind our main character’s timid, so far collected, exterior. The facade quickly disappears as her cousin Sara (Emily Browning) who she came to visit has to go back to school for an exam and insists on leaving her behind. Alicia is left with her cousin’s boyfriend Agustín (Agustín Silva), his unpredictable sister (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and the sleazy Brink (Michael Cera).
With paranoia beaming from her eyes, Alicia goes straight to the conclusion that everyone’s crazy and out to get her. As a viewer it’s not difficult to believe her as Brink comes off as the biggest sexist douche of this decade. During the first night at their destination in Southern Chile, Brink drags his fingernails along the top of the sofa where Alicia sits: a true testament of creepiness if you’re looking for one. At the end of that same night, there’s an ominous lingering shot of a dying fireplace that increases the suspense.
This film is Temple’s and Cera’s time to shine. Temple who goes through a slow and truly believable breakdown plays Alicia with a great sensitivity and just her empty gase staring into space is impactful. Cera isn’t far behind, giving disturbing looks and makes his line: “And you love candy?” sound dirty, menacing and jokey while he at the same time gives Temple and the audience a vicious non-clichéd smile.
Sadly what started off as a promising psychological thriller soon trails off into a classic horror film where everything is played for shock. Even if the performances make up for some off the over the top plot tropes, the actors are still left with a sour melodramatic ending. But Magic Magic delivers some outstanding shots of Chiles’ countryside and lingering storytelling that still makes it worth a watch.