EIFF Student Critics' Best of 2013: Day 5

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This week we're rounding up the best films of EIFF 2013, as selected by our Student Critics Jury. Follow along daily for their reviews.

Today's pick is Sebastián Silva's Magic Magic – due for release in cinemas next year – reviewed by Kathryn Craigmyle.

Early on in Magic Magic, a group of friends stumble upon two puppies at the side of the road. While debating whether or not to rescue them, the owner informs them - “They are going to die. That's why they were abandoned”. Noticeably subdued during this scene is Alicia (Juno Temple), recently left alone in an unknown country with this group of strangers by her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning). Whether she has been abandoned for the same reason as the puppies is the question at the heart of director Sebastián Silva's sinister but confused psychological thriller.

Whilst visiting Sarah in Chile, Alicia has the misfortune to be left in the company of her cousin's friends. With Sarah rushing back to America under the pretense of re-sitting an exam, Alicia struggles to connect with her new housemates. Outside of the States for the first time, and knowing very little Spanish, Alicia’s arrival in Chile becomes increasingly problematic. Ominous accidents like getting a disc stuck in the car's CD player, and unintentionally dropping a bag into the sea incur the wrath of one of her tormentors, the distant and manipulative Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno), whilst she also suffers the unwarranted advances of the chillingly demonstrative Brink (Michael Cera). Separated from the others by a language she cannot understand, paranoia sets in, leading to a rapid psychological decline which no one else can comprehend.

Temple gives a nuanced performance as a woman completely detached from reality, lending Alicia a believable vulnerability which manages to be unsettling without becoming irritating. Although her character is not exactly a typical Hollywood 'scream queen', it is still rare to find an actress capable of playing a horror / thriller heroine whom the audience does not long to see meet her downfall before the end credits.

An unsettling tension permeates the film, particularly in a lengthy but well-executed scene in which Alicia's new acquaintances try to convince her to follow them in jumping off a cliff into the sea. The cinematography of Wong Kar-Wai’s regular collaborator Christopher Doyle, creates a stark backdrop for what is perhaps the turning point in Alicia’s mental unravelling. Partly wanting her to jump so that she can prove herself to the group, but partly hoping she won't cave under such abuse, the scene is rivetingly painful to watch. The themes of peer pressure and internal trauma are at their most urgent and relatable here, highlighting the childish bullying we know adults are capable of, and the suffering it causes.

Although the film often veers off into baffling territories, Magic Magic has moments of brilliance. Its high-paced set pieces manage to convey the talents of its cast whilst also maintaining a discomforting atmosphere. The pivotal moment when Alicia is hypnotised and forced to carry out embarrassing and harmful acts is particularly effective, drawing the audience into a trance as powerful as its protagonist’s.

Kathryn Craigmyle

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The Student Critics Jury is a group of bright young student film critics mentored at Edinburgh International Film Festival.

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