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Talk to Me review — Fresh hell unleashed in taut horror that elevates genre
Danny and Michael Philippou’s breakout hit Australian supernatural horror freshens up the formula with a rich, relatable characterisation and filmic craft across the board. Not short on shocks and memorable chills, it’s apex genre fare that will crawl under your skin and stay there.
One of the best low-key ways to celebrate Halloween is to watch a horror movie, but between all the cinema distributors and streaming services, and their flood of scary seasonal offerings, choosing said movie can be more anxiety-inducing than anything you watch on a screen.
One of the strongest contenders is also one of the breakout genre hits of this year: Talk to Me. Distributed by A24, the same company that brought the world the unnerving but also arty likes of The Witch, Hereditary, Saint Maud, X, Beau is Afraid, Midsommar and Men, Talk to Me is the feature film debut of Australian filmmakers and YouTubers Danny and Michael Philippou.
The Philippous’ small indie production has since gone on to become the second most financially successful A24 film globally (behind the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once), with both prequel and sequel content lined up. However, now is the time to watch the original, before inevitable franchise fatigue sets in.
In Talk to Me, a group of Adelaide high schoolers become addicted to an illicit new thrill: using a mysterious embalmed hand to communicate with spirits and letting the dead possess them for short periods. The hand comes with some vague hand-me-down advice in the vein of “Don’t feed the Mogwai after midnight,” and “If you watch the tape, you’ll die seven days later.” In this case, the connection with the randomly invited spirit — initiated by gripping the hand — must be broken after 90 seconds, or it will have lingering control over the living host. Of course, things go wrong, and terrifying supernatural forces are unleashed.
Talk to Me is a tight 95 minutes, but it spends a considerable amount of time, much like the original Poltergeist, fleshing out the characters and making them both relatable and likeable. The main character Mia (Sophie Wilde) is an awkward social outcast, aloof from most people, especially her father, after the apparent suicide of her mother. Mia, however, has a found family in the form of her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), and Jade’s sensitive younger brother Riley (Joe Bird).
There’s a credible dynamic among the trio and their friends’ circle, who aren’t particularly bad kids, but approach prodding at the afterlife with zero sense of their own mortality — a natural side effect of their youth. It’s not subtle about it, but Talk to Me shows the dichotomy of its protagonists being vehemently anti-smoking but happy to act as vessels for tormented souls in limbo, gleefully recording events on their mobile phones for social media lols.
Wilde and Bird are the standouts, performance-wise, as their characters are subjected to visually unsettling possessions most at odds with their on-screen personalities. However, familiar face Miranda Otto is another interesting addition to the mix as Sue, Riley and Jade’s strict mother, who nonetheless is capable of analysing her reactions and admitting her mistakes. Sue runs the full emotional gamut, and Talk to Me does the same, with slice-of-life humour counterbalanced by shocking, visceral moments that hit even harder because of the contrast.
The hype is very much real with Talk to Me. While the film may not feature the most original plot — coming across as a 21st Century Flatliners meets The Exorcist — it proves that a combination of unusually strong characterisation, excellent performances, some understated practical effects combined with camerawork flair, and a commitment to remaining ambiguous, can elevate fairly standard genre fare. Even though it wobbles a bit in its final act, Talk to Me is peppered with scenes that will stay with you in the long term. Much like the best A24 horror. DM
This story was first published on Pfangirl.com
Following a film festival debut in Australia in October 2022, Talk to Me enjoyed a wider cinema release overseas from 28 July this year, and debuted at South African cinemas on 15 September. Internationally, the film is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Video on Demand.