American Alicia (Juno Temple) has just flown into Chile to meet her cousin Sara (Emily Browning), as they are planning a holiday in a remote but picturesque region of the country, and Sara's boyfriend Agustín (Agustín Silva) with their two friends Brink (Michael Cera), a flippant chap, and Bárbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno), who is rather frosty, are accompanying them. Alicia is feeling fragile after her long flight from the United States, not having slept the entire journey, and now finds she cannot relax, being shy around the others and anxious about going somewhere she doesn't know in the middle of nowhere with them. To make matters worse, Sara suddenly announces she is flying home to take an exam, leaving her cousin even more unsettled...
Magic Magic was the movie director Sebastián Silva and star Michael Cera wanted to make when they were making another movie released the same year, Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012, which if nothing else proved they were keen while waiting for the budget to arrive for this. Both films quickly picked up cult followings while leaving many other viewers decidedly alienated, especially so in the case of this thanks to a marketing campaign which sold it as a horror flick, or at least a thriller, when it was actually a psychological drama featuring psychology which was decidedly off-kilter. There were no obvious scares here other than the creeping concern that the heroine, Alicia, was gradually and inexorably losing her mind.
By this point star Temple had marked herself out as one of the most adventurous and prodigiously talented actresses of her generation, taking smaller roles in blockbusters while the leads in indies were where she really shone. Here anybody who had an experience with mental illness could attest she was putting in a sterling job of portraying a young woman who was trying and failing to stave off a psychosis, and while director Silva's script was not going to venture into many details about her background, we could tell this idea to go on holiday was a bad one when she would have been healthier in more familiar surroundings. And not helping were the people she had around her who were either indifferent to her suffering or making it worse.
Cera, as in the previous Silva movie, was finding a new lease of screen life in obnoxiousness, illustrating his range went further than sensitive manchild and into darker realms. Brink and Alicia don't get on at all, with the whole plot coming across as a veiled plea for better understanding and compassion for those who had their struggles in life as regards their state of mind, as we were presented with a worst case scenario in light of what can happen when either through deliberate action or simple apathy one person's unbalanced state can be exacerbated by utterly the wrong encounters and company. Time and again nobody in the holiday party sees the signs that Alicia is having a lot of trouble, and if Sara was actually leaving for an abortion which presumably she could not delay any longer, that doesn't excuse the behaviour of the others.
Incidents pile up in Alicia's mind so that it doesn't matter if there is lovely scenery to soak up, she still has to deal with a randy dog or Brink shooting a parrot out of boredom, just two of the events edging her closer over the side of the cliff of sanity. Temple was heartbreaking to watch, the living embodiment of the sort of thing that makes you go "aww..." with her illness causing her to act erratically, so she will be trying not to cry most of the time, then the others will do something idiotic like hypnotise her which she feels she has to go along with to make it look as if she's all right really, but ends up burning her hand in the coal fire as a result. Soon her insomnia is weighing heavily and she wanders up to the hated Brink's bed and pushes his face into her crotch, unaware of what she is doing but making even more of an enemy of him. The finale, where it has all gone horribly wrong through lack of understanding, offered no answers other than to ensure things never got this terrible for those who appeared to you to be having a bad time. Not a sunny film, but very well done for those who could take it.