Sundance 2013: ‘Magic Magic’ with Michael Cera casts a dark spell

In “Magic Magic,” which premiered at Sundance as part of the Midnight section, a fun-loving holiday goes horribly awry. But it isn’t so much a horror film as an exploration of insanity, selfishness and emotional brutality that leaves audiences weirded out.

Filmmaker Sebastian Silva was in Sundance with two films, both starring Michael Cera, and Silva picked up a directing prize for his “Crystal Fairy” in the International Dramatic competition. His film “The Maid” had previously won the International Dramatic Grand Jury prize.


As “Magic Magic” begins, Sarah (Emily Browning), studying abroad in Chile, is joined by her cousin Alicia (Juno Temple) for a weekend getaway with friends, including a diplomat’s eccentric son known as Brink (Michael Cera). As their journey goes on, Alicia starts acting stranger and stranger, until it seems she is having some sort of full-blown mental collapse. Talk about a bad trip.

PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance

“I wanted to explore horror, but I could never have done anything with creatures or paranormal stuff,” said Silva when he and his cast stopped by the L.A. Times studio during the festival. “I don’t find it horrifying or scary at all. We know its not real, so you know you’re safe watching it.”

For Temple, also at the festival with “Afternoon Delight” and “Lovelace,” making “Magic Magic” was a particularly rigorous experience. She did research into schizophrenia and mental illness, and the level of intensity in her performance was difficult to sustain.

“It was all as if we were living it and making it at the same time,” said Temple, noting that the cast lived together in one house while shooting in another nearby. “I definitely went to a strange headspace for 30 days, but at the same time it was lovely because we’d have communal meals, so at the end of the day no matter how intense it was or how late it was, we’d have a glass of Pisco and something to eat.”

Browning was attracted to the film’s darker underpinnings, its exploration of the cruelty people can inflict on each other without thinking or even realizing it.

“What I like about this film is that all of the characters are a little bit awful, they’re not particularly likable. And I think that’s really cool because so many times [actors] are concerned about playing lovable characters or is the audience going to love me, and I just don’t give a ... about that. I think you should worry about playing interesting characters that are real people, and a lot of the time people are awful.”

SUNDANCE: Portraits by The Times

Silva called Cera’s character “one of my favorite characters I’ve created in a movie.” Funny, strange, unthinking but somehow sensitive, Cera’s Brink will really surprise audiences who think they have seen everything the actor, known for “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Arrested Development,” can do.

Making two movies with Silva in Chile was a unique experience for Cera, who nevertheless sees them as distinct films.

“I wasn’t thinking about the similarities between them. We made them separately and they were each their own films. ... To me they are really tied together but they are completely different.”


FULL COVERAGE: Sundance Film Festival 2013

‘Primer’s’ Shane Carruth in total control with ‘Upstream Color’

Sundance 2013: Michael Cera’s double adventure in Chile

Sundance 2013: Andrew Bujalski and the absurd in ‘Computer Chess’

Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus


VIDEO: A video guide to Sundance 2013

PHOTOS: Dramas in competition

PHOTOS: Films for sale