The Magician is a sinister simmer of comedy, violence and raw, early Tarantino shit-shooting, knocked up for about £2.50 by writer/producer/director Ryan. The mock-doc/killer-shadowing theme will draw knee-jerk nods to 1992’s Man Bites Dog. No fancy pretensions on media satire here, though...
The Matador glossed up the whacking trade with a squirt of continental sheen, but Ryan – like countryman Greg McLean with Wolf Creek – seems intent on roughing up his country’s toy-town tourism image with a straight-up, inky-black character study of a shady, but smooth, operator.
We fade in (barely) with Ray a dark destroyer stalking his quarry in a gloomy car park, all curdled bravado and fag-ash euphemism (“Basically, I’m gonna go up there and... give him the good news!”). Soon, Max finds himself taken semi-hostage by his subject – both physically and artistically. “We’ll edit that out later,” warns Ray at one point.
Ryan’s feral turn is all the more impressive given the multi-tasking. Like all the best first-timers, he twists budget restrictions to his advantage, ditching grand gestures for subtle dabs of hyper-real detail: a raindrop left to quiver on the lens; a pixelled-out numberplate; a blob of burger at the side of Ray’s mouth, demystifying and shrinking him, stripping away the swagger and hinting at the lost boy within.
He also packs plenty of nutrition into the strange brew of captor, captive and recorder. There’s a lengthy sequence on the etiquette of sleeping next to a male friend with your pants off, a little pub chat about shit-eating, a painfully tense and claustrophobic fast-food order, and a Scene Of The Year contender in which the terrified hostage is sprung from a car boot to settle an argument over whether Clint Eastwood was in The Dirty Dozen or not.
Churls may mutter about overly Aussie references and a lack of conventional action but, for a first film, The Magician does a fine job of yanking a shiny rabbit from a grimy hat.