When I first moved to Southern California, I made friends with a magician who invited me to Hollywood’s Magic Castle. On a Friday night, the place was packed with people dressed for a red carpet event (the dress code is pretty strict) and the walls in this labyrinth of cocktails and wonder were adorned with posters, photos, and tools of the trade including some weaponry. During my evening, especially while watching stage acts, I felt that an illusion gone wrong would make for a perfect murder mystery. To my astonishment, as I sat to watch ABRAKADABRA, the first few minutes of the film laid out exactly what I had thought that night in Hollywood. A magician murdered due to an illusion gone bad….or so you think!
ABRAKADABRA is a wild reveal from a murder mystery inspired by the Italian Giallo films of Dario Argento. If you are unclear about what a Giallo film is, don’t worry I was too until this film sucked me into its rabbit hole and now I’d like to make you as pretentious as I feel currently. Giallo films are based on Giallo pulp murder mystery novels and rose to their most prominent success in Europe during the 1970s with director Dario Argento. For an American audience, the best comparison is if Alfred Hitchcock was at his most popular in the ’70s rather than the 1950s and ’60s.
The Argentine-born Onetti brothers have spent the last few years creating a trilogy of Giallo films and this is their third. ABRAKADABRA is a story about a distraught and depressed magician following in the footsteps of his father who was murdered on stage, and as he is about to perform on that same stage 30 years later, the murders continue.
What I love about this film is that over the course of its 70-minute run time I had no clue where we would end up. Even during a big reveal during the third act where I thought I knew, I, in fact, knew nothing. Like any great who-dun-it mystery there are hints throughout the film, but even keen eyes may miss them. The Onetti brothers are bold in their use of the actors and the camera too. Everyone feels like a possible suspect. The mannerisms, conversations, and pacing all lead the viewer to state, “Maybe its actually that guy!”
The camera work in ABRAKADABRA feels like a throwback to an older style of film making. It really becomes a character and you see the world through its lens. Shots looking up at someone’s face or shot looking down from the ceiling. There are shots shooting down what feels like an infinite stairwell, and there are zoom shots that lie somewhere between cheesy and absolutely appropriate. Outside of the more recent “single take” style that comes with award-nominated films like Birdman or 1917, I haven’t felt like the camera meant anything in a film. Here it gives this feeling of voyeurism. At times it makes you feel uncomfortable because you are spying on someone in the bathroom or the camera doesn’t pan away when someone innocent is murdered. At other times it feels like it’s tricking you, part of the magician’s act where only he really knows what is going on.
A call-back to the original Giallo films is that this film takes place in 1981 and the Onetti Brothers knew exactly what 1981 looked and felt like. The wardrobe, set design, hair, and makeup. It’s all there, but this film is set apart by two other major additions to the film: the soundtrack and the color correction created in post-production. This soundtrack finds itself somewhere between ’70s bebop jazz and synthesizers with a little bit of funk and classical music thrown in. The music and sound design create a mood that compliments what you see visually on screen. The color correction of this film adds a blend of warm and cool tones with rich colors that you just don’t see in the digital age of filmmaking.
ABRAKADABRA is a film that takes you back in time and gives you a simple and very good murder-mystery worthy of any Hitchcock comparison you want to make. Don’t be afraid of the subtitles, this film has much to offer in suspense and entertainment.
ABRAKADABRA is now available to rent on Amazon Prime and will be available on Blu-ray/DVD on May 12, 2020.