Chilean writer/director Sebastián Silva’s semi-autobiographical unfolding of a group of friends in search of the shamanistic high produced from drinking San Pedro cactus juice is a strange and bittersweet trip. The basic narrative may have been played out many times before but Silva’s singular vision and the bold emotional investment of his cast does intermittently elevate this road trip movie to a whole other level.
Jamie, played magnificently by Michael Cera of Arrested Development fame is in Chile, the stereotypical American – self absorbed, passive aggressive, didn’t bother to learn the language and thinks every door will open for his almighty dollar. While drunk and high at a wild party he meets Crystal Fairy, also American – an eccentric free-spirited girl whom he invites to join the search for the mind-blowing cactus (casting Uncle Buck child star Gaby Hoffman was a true stroke of genius, for like a crystal Gaby brings so many facets to her role and she truly shines).
Now on the road with friend Champa and his two brothers Pilo and Lel (portrayed brilliantly by director Silva’s own three brothers), self-consumed Jamie has forgotten all about his invitation to neo-hippie Crystal so when she calls and their gang expands to include a girl the other guys adjust authentically, resulting in a touching rapport. Judgemental Jamie of course finds himself in an extreme battle of wills with Crystal for control of his obsessively-managed trip (in terms of both their sandy destination and hedonistic liquid quest). As the cactus-consuming group interact on an isolated beach, truths surface, perceptions crumble and life’s ultimate high is bestowed, an ethereal moment of unvarnished and connective honesty.
Choosing to shoot in sequence (as the actors improvised their dialogue from an outline) was not only bold but inspired, and Silva going hand-held was also on point. However, the detached approach of Silva and the languid, occasionally laborious, nature of this story does make occasionally looking at your watch a possibility, until there’s another moment of genuine engagement to refocus you.
Crystal Fairy is released in select cinemas on 17th January 2014.
Watch the trailer for Crystal Fairy here: