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Sundance Review: Magic Magic

1:30 PM on 01.27.2013 // Allistair Pinsof


Some laugh at what scares them. This act can be perceived as obnoxious and puzzling to someone else in a theater, but it feels completely natural during Magic Magic: A hypnotizing balancing act between horror and comedy (but never a horror-comedy -- e.g. Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland).

Awkwardness and unpredictability provide the links between genres, with Michael Cera and Juno Temple's performances acting as conduits. They bring out laughter from me -- whether it's derided from fear or comedic timing, I'm still uncertain.

Magic Magic
Director: Sebastián Silva
Rating: NR
Country: USA/Chile
Release Date: January 22, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival)

There is an irrelevance that persists throughout Magic Magic; this complete disregard for artistic intent, closure, and consistency is what keeps the film buoyant. It's an oddity deserving of a primarily Spanish-speaking performance from Cera.

As with Crystal Fairy, director Sebastián Silva and Cera's other collaboration, Magic Magic follows a group of friends on sabbatical, becoming increasingly distant due to Brink's (Cera) quirks and the presence of a strange girl growing increasingly hostile (Alicia, played by Temple). Trade in horror for Crystal Fairy's psychedelic flirtations and you have something like Magic Magic, a film that is always perplexing but never boring.

Alicia is no different than the rest of the group of friends (a mix of native Chileans and Americans abroad), in that she just wants to relax, except she can't due to insomnia. Alicia's anti-social behavior complements Cera's hilariously perverse, obnoxious character, until she becomes an actual threat to the party. Even when Alicia attacks, I found myself laughing, unsure if I was alone or not in doing so. I never found myself rooting for either party, nor did I sympathize with the Chilean friends that just wanted a vacation. Magic Magic's story is one of those train wrecks that elicits morbid curiosity instead of empathy. It's a dark film, but one that feels as if it can be illuminated with the opening of a cellphone.

Magic Magic is anti-horror horror. It's mumblehorror. Violence is dealt with as nonchalantly as Cera delivers his lines: lazily drawn-out with a disregard for theatrics. I can't think of any other film that effectively conveys an ominous tone while frequently providing comic relief, without relying on slapstick or surprise. Most of this is due to Cera, who fits seamlessly into a character that is simultaneously repulsive, pathetic, adorable, and sympathetic. Whenever he is on the screen, I found myself laughing -- maybe out of fear, maybe out of comedic delivery (I can't remember which.)

Magic Magic's inconclusive end and aimless middle may turn away impatient viewers, but the film's ambiguous nature, carefully walking a line between comedy and horror, thrilled me until its end. A theater sharing one great hearty laugh is great, but I prefer a theater divided -- unsure of whether it's okay to laugh and uneasy with those that do. If you also adore that awkward state, Magic Magic will satisfy. It's a gorgeously shot, strange film that leaves me uncertain of what to label it and happy that I won't have to label it anything at all.


Magic Magic - Reviewed by Allistair Pinsof

Exceptional. One of the best films of the year. You should see it immediately.

Allistair Pinsof,
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