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SXSW Review: “Magpie”

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 14th, 2024

MAGPIE director Sam Yates | Credit: Dave Benett

Magpie (Sam Yates, 2024) 2½ out of 5 stars.

Magpie, from director Sam Yates (making his feature debut) and actor-turned-screenwriter Tom Bateman (Death on the Nile), is the kind of film that takes its own cleverness very seriously. With a bold ending reveal meant to send shivers down the viewer’s spine, it twists and feints throughout, offering juicy red herrings and other thrilling morsels ripe for cinematic consumption. Unfortunately, as fun as it can sometimes be, the movie is also far too one-dimensional to justify any of its mise-en-scène. It’s all solely for show.

Daisy Ridley (Ophelia) stars as Anette, a mother of two whose daughter, Matilda (Hiba Ahmed), the eldest, has just been cast in a major film production nearby. Anette and husband Ben (Shazad Latif, Falling for Figaro) live in the British countryside in a grand, modern house, though we understand that they once lived in London. Their move to more remote digs was to ostensibly raise their children in a quieter spot and afford Ben, an author (with writer’s block) the peace he needs to come up with his next book.

Daisy Ridley in MAGPIRE | Credit: Rob Baker Ashton

Unfortunately, their resulting isolation has taken a toll on Anette and the marriage. The more we learn about Ben, however, the quicker we conclude that the loss of him would only benefit Anette. He’s awful, to put it plainly: the ultimate gaslighter. While she does the bulk of the childrearing, he disappears for months on end to pursue “research.” She needs to drop him, and now.

And therein lies the biggest issue of the narrative. There is nothing in any way redeeming to Ben. Villains without nuance may pose no less a problem to the protagonist than those with more gradations of both good and evil, but in a drama they merely bore. Poor Latif is awash in sleaze, nervous ticks and shady eye movements his entire bag of tricks.

l-r: Shazad Latif and Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz at SXSW 2024 @Christopher Llewellyn Reed

The catalyst for things to get even worse is that movie set. Ben insists on being the one to take Matilda (who goes by Tillie) every day, his transparent motivation that he has a crush on the lead actress, Alicia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Final Cut). Tying into the theme of gross men is the fact that one of Alicia’s former lovers has just released some revenge porn. Which, of course, Ben watches, even while defending Alicia in public.

By all means should bad male behavior—including but not limited to misogyny and verbal abuse—be called out. It’s the superficial treatment of the topic which enrages. That said, Yates does manage some fine moments of performance and camera. Ridley (married to Bateman) delivers a strong turn, as does Lutz. It’s too bad that no one can quite surmount the weakness of the source material.

l-r: Tom Bateman, Daisy Ridley, and Sam Yates at SXSW 2024 @Christopher Llewellyn Reed

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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