Though it specifically refers to a plot critical element in the film, Magic Spot‘s title is a perfect encapsulation of the movie’s success. This film just works. All the elements combine to create this precise piece that, quite simply, just hits the spot, and that feels like magic for doing it. It is a film of lofty ambitions and intimate sensibilities. Its low budget and homemade backbone is pronounced enough to foster real charm while its undeniable craft and intricacy elevate it to great heights. It’s no secret that we at The Twin Geeks are fans of Motern Media movies (the crew behind this work), with our podcast on their filmography and glowing review of their last feature. But, Magic Spot reminds you why you are a fan to begin with, and sits comfortably as the gang’s best movie since the superlative Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You (2012).
The film’s most immediate strength is its wit. The comedy is in the style of previous Motern works, derived from endearing characters and smart manipulation of language (nothing beats the realisation that certain words are just funny. This time, bask in the comedic brilliance that is the verb ‘acclimate’). It is also hewn from sincerity. This is a ludicrous film, a science-fiction comedy that establishes an increasingly complex lore that would weigh down most films. Yet, these growing complications are the source of much humour, as characters uniformly respond to even the most bizarre revelation with pure acceptance. It creates this united front between characters and viewer, through which we are encouraged to go with it and to give into the film’s myriad charms. The silliness becomes a playful one, but also an endorsed one. This acceptance masks a sincerity that underpins the film. The machinery of the plot is taken seriously because a deadpan response to absurdity is funny, and it works every time, but it is also taken seriously because it merits it.
In a world where time travel films (of which this is one) frequently get lost under their own rules and twists, Magic Spot emerges triumphant. There is a lot going on here but the film retains an incredible sense of control and precision. Each ripple to the narrative is earned and supports the whole picture. Elements that seem overly far-fetched, or points that exist purely to be humourous, end up as integral moments and key facets of a cohesive whole. Much like it was so impressive how far Metal Detector Maniac (2021) went in its final act, it is astonishing how much Magic Spot is able to tie up and bring back together. Few science fiction films have such a clear internal logic in which the rules are both entertaining and consistent. It is a minor narrative triumph, a film in which the whims of the plot exist to serve character, theme and humour but also manifest in an independently satisfying way. Truly, as a piece of scriptwriting, it’s Matt Farley and Charlie Roxburgh’s best work yet.
This sentiment carries through. The film works because its just very very good. It soars, though, because of its sweetness. At the centre of a twisting tale of time travel are relationships. Like many Motern films before it, the events circle around a romantic arc for Matt Farley’s lead. Our love interest is Motern staple Elizabeth M. Peterson and the couple are just heart-meltingly brilliant on screen. Sure, their on screen chemistry is helped by the actors being married, but reality doesn’t always shine through fiction. It also works due to two great performances, and two performances that so understand the rhythms of the script and how to convey both humour and heart (with one never coming at the expense of the other). Our romantic arc is also intelligently intertwined to a wider narrative and thematic arc.
This is a film about the importance of the present, but also of an understanding of the present’s interplay with the past. A time travel narrative is perfect for this, creating a framework about longing to live somewhere different, or longing for divergence in general. This divergence is presented to highlight the beauty of the here and now, to spotlight (to magic spotlight, perhaps) the wonder all around us. It’s a motif that is captured intelligently throughout the film, in choices that feel like humourous affectations even though they carry greater weight. Two key elements of the film are a live TV show that is never recorded (if you don’t catch it live you don’t catch it at all) and a band who only ever play to themselves in the woods. These are exclusive moments defined by being satisfied by the present, moments that highlight temporality and ephemerality. Through this, they both gain importance and resonance. The finite is held up against the infinite but the film is also willing to engage in layers. Immediacy matters but transience can also be a way of evading the present, of giving into time slipping away rather than truly living in the moment. A key narrative element involves the cementing of a moment in time. This adds nuance to the work, establishing the idea that the here and now matters but that the present is also an active thing, not a passive experience.
It also plays into the film’s grasp of memory. So much of Magic Spot revolves around the importance of memory, and this being how the past communicates to the present. But, yet again, memory is used as an intelligent device for the core themes. Our hazy knowledge of the past reflects our lack of investment in the present: we live on auto-pilot in a way that means moments fall out of our mind. This film is about the need to create memories, to foster good ones. To not dwell on the past but to be supported by it, to use it as the bedrock for our glorious presents. And all of this in a delightfully silly movie about a rock that lets you time travel for no discernible reason (but that has very specific rules).
Everything comes back to sincerity and legitimacy. Through this film Charlie Roxburgh, Matt Farley and the rest craft this exceptional filmic world. Tussleville, the fictional town in which the film is based, is stunningly realised. It feels like a privilege to spend our cinematic time there and the quality of the world building only further establishes the key theme of living in the present, and of seizing the day. We also have a sublime soundtrack from Tom Scalzo, with reoccurring motifs that become perfect emotional pairings for sequences. In the end, everything feels like home. It is such a sweet, earnest and beautiful film. This is a film for Motern fans, one in which your familiarity for them is integral to the experience. This spot feels like home, with familiar faces (yes, Kevin McGee is here, and is brilliant as always) and a familiar sensibility. It makes that sensibility part of the work though, becoming a celebration of intimacy and togetherness, of the relationships we build in our lives. Yes, this new film is underpinned by the gang’s cinematic past, but it exists in their cinematic present, and is all the better for it. Because, after all, the Magic Spot is the present, the only spot we ever inhabit and, as the film communicates so beautifully, something we should never take for granted.