After “Crystal Fairy,” the drug-fueled road trip comedy that recently ended its local run at the Lagoon Cinema, “Magic Magic” is the second of Chilean director Sebastian Silva’s bids to turn the nice-guy persona of “Juno” actor Michael Cera inside out.
Of the two, “Magic Magic” — even though it’s skipping theaters entirely in favor of video on demand (and DVD) — is, as a critic put it at Sundance, “the good one.” Trading the contrived sentimentality of “Crystal Fairy” for dark humor, it maintains the earlier film’s road-trip conceit and its stunt casting of sweet Cera as an often hilariously selfish, careless and overbearing young jerk.
As “Magic Magic” opens, Cera’s Brink, an American exchange student in Chile, appears the epitome of obnoxious, singing dumb lyrics horribly off-key while doing the kind of interpretive dance that can get a person punched in some quarters. One of five twenty-somethings heading south from Santiago to a cabin for the weekend, Brink is immediately unwelcoming of the group’s newest member, Alicia (Juno Temple), whose obvious fragility he callously mocks.
On the road, bad omens abound: The group finds a pair of abandoned puppies, one of them covered in disgusting sores; the car’s CD player is stuck on repeat, playing Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” ad infinitum, and Alicia’s older cousin (Emily Browning), her one and only ally, suddenly announces that she’s heading back to Santiago to take a college exam and hops a bus back north.
By the time the four remaining travelers reach their destination, on a remote island off the coast of Chile, Alicia looks about a breath away from a full-blown panic attack. As Brink continues needling the young woman at every opportunity, things only deteriorate from there.
Aided by the exquisitely moody cinematography of Glenn Kaplan and the genius Christopher Doyle (“Fallen Angels”), “Magic Magic” displays an acute understanding of the moment-to-moment particulars of mental illness. At the same time, the horror of this psychological horror movie is more universal — getting thrown into a situation with people you don’t like and can’t trust. Alicia may be unhinged, but, as the saying goes, even paranoids have enemies.
Also new to VOD
As any worthy thriller about tenuous mental states is bound to invoke Alfred Hitchcock, this is a good time to mention that the Master of Suspense himself has plenty of titles available on VOD. Most notable here are some of the lesser known features that aren’t on Blu-ray, but are newly screenable in high-def nonetheless via Amazon Instant Video and/or iTunes.
“I Confess” (1953), starring Montgomery Clift as a guilt-ridden priest turned murder suspect, is an eternally underrated Hitchcock pic from the period directly preceding his string of masterpieces. “Foreign Correspondent” is a peppy one from 1940, with Joel McCrea as a reporter on the trail of European spies. And “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (1941) is always fun for the opportunity it allows the Hitch buff to tease out characteristic themes from within the director’s rare work in straight-up comedy; it stars Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery as a couple who discover that their marriage isn’t valid.
And then there’s the brand-new “Passion” from the greatest of all Hitchcock acolytes, Brian De Palma; simply put, it’s a hoot.
Rob Nelson is a National Society of Film Critics member whose reviews appear regularly in the trade magazine Variety.