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Magic Magic review: Juno Temple loses her mind in queasy thriller

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Director: Sebastián Silva Screenwriter: Sebastián Silva; Starring: Juno Temple, Michael Cera, Emily Browning, Agustín Silva, Catalina Sandino Moreno; Running time: 97 mins; Certificate: 15

A group of attractive young people holidaying in an isolated rural cottage doesn't tend to bode well in cinema, but Sebastián Silva's troubling psychological thriller largely eschews cabin-in-the-woods convention, and cements Juno Temple as one of the most compelling young actresses working today. Playing a fragile tourist who suffers a horribly drawn-out psychotic break, Temple puts to use the same off-kilter naivety and quiet volatility that made her a standout in Killer Joe.

Alicia (Temple) arrives bleary-eyed to visit her cousin Sara (Emily Browning) and her friends in Chile; she's never been outside of the US before, and seems on-edge from the start. As the group travels across the country to reach their remote getaway, there's an air of veiled hostility and passive-aggression towards the socially awkward Alicia, but Silva leads us to question whether this is the bias of an unreliable narrator.

Emily Browning & Juno Temple in Magic Magic (2013)
Sebastián Silva's troubling psychological thriller largely eschews cabin-in-the-woods convention, and cements Juno Temple as one of the most compelling young actresses working today.

Raw from persistent insomnia and culture shock, Alicia is triggered at first by small events - the group's failed attempt to save a sickly puppy from the roadside, the lack of cell reception at their destination, the shooting of a beautiful parrot for sport. Sara is unexpectedly called back to the city, leaving Alicia alone with near-strangers in a strange land, and Temple is riveting as her neuroses begin to overwhelm her.

"These people are sadists," she cries at one point, and in this regard she isn't wholly delusional. Michael Cera has never been more discomfiting, playing a needy, belligerent negative image of his well-established nerd persona (in his nastiest moments Brink recalls This Is The End's obnoxious Cera caricature). Even the ostensibly sweet, well-adjusted Agustín (Agustín Silva) practices hypnosis as a hobby, and his experimentation with Alicia seems to only accelerate her mental breakdown.

The soundscape of Magic Magic becomes key, as the boundary between reality and delusion gets blurrier – lying sleepless in bed, Alicia is deafened by bird noise; later she hears the others discussing her, and as the tone of their conversations turns persecutory it's clear she is hallucinating. Silva's script has a shrewd handle on the mechanics of psychosis, and determinedly avoids revealing much at all about Alicia's past – her pervasive terror of being violated doesn't require a backstory, although inferences can be made based on a subplot involving Sara.

Michael Cera & Juno Temple in Magic Magic (2013)
Magic Magic ultimately descends into a truly demented finale that recalls the final moments of Ben Wheatley's Kill List...

In one unbearably tense sequence the group jump from jagged cliffs into the ocean below, and Alicia repeatedly balks, not because she's naïve but because she isn't. The others revel blithely in thrill-seeking, but to the damaged Alicia, the danger is too real.

Magic Magic ultimately descends into a truly demented finale that recalls the final moments of Ben Wheatley's Kill List – the threat becomes external rather than internal, which squanders some of the film's simmering power. But it's still a wonderfully disturbing and emotionally intelligent thriller, capturing the unique anxiety and helplessness of being sleep-deprived, and the queasy suddenness with which the tether of a vulnerable mind can snap.

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