Horror season is quickly approaching and amongst the upcoming slate of sequels and reboots including The Nun 2 and The Exorcist, arthouse studio A24 is taking a fresh stab at the genre with an original from twin YouTubers Danny and Michael Philippou in their debut feature, Talk To Me.
Fans of [elevated] horror are familiar with the works of A24, the relatively young studio that brought Midsommar and Hereditary – two of the most highly-raved horror films of recent years – to mainstream audiences, so it won’t come as a surprise that Talk To Me fits the slate like a glove – spunky, creepy, and full of heart and gore – and is the talk of film festivals. Deservedly so.
The movie starts at a house party in Adelaide, Australia where a young man searches frantically for his brother. His brother has been acting odd and no one else at the party seems to care – booze in one hand, Snapchat on the other, always ready to capture another’s worst moments. When the young man finally finds his brother, things go south and in a quick few seconds, audiences are faced with a shocking, uncomfortable and violent scene. We’re only three minutes into the movie, and that’s just the first of violent pull-rugs to come.
Viewers are later introduced to Talk to Me’s protagonist, 17-year-old Mia (Sophie Wilde), whose mother recently passed away. She doesn’t have a close relationship with her father Max (Marcus Johnson) so she spends a lot of her time with best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), Jade’s little brother Riley (Joe Bird) and their no-nonsense mother Sue (Miranda Otto). The next 20 minutes is a depiction of regular teen life – exes, parties, peer pressure – and life Down Under where wild kangaroos become victims of hit and run because hey, Australia. It then kicks into horror when Mia, Jade and Riley attend a party hosted by schoolmates Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Chris Alosio (Joss) where the main attraction is a mysterious embalmed hand that lets a spirit possess you simply by holding it, saying the words “Talk to me”, followed by “I let you in”.
The hand acts like an Ouija board of sorts but rather than communicating with the dead, its players are possessed by whatever spirit that gets called to it. The hosts only allow 90 seconds per turn because if it goes on for any longer, said spirit will want to stay. The Philippous showcase the possession as an addictive high, much like Flatliners (2017) where our characters feel a sense of thrill and pleasure in the danger of their acts.
In Talk To Me, the pupils of the possessed get dilated, and they will say and do things they normally wouldn’t do including bestiality, contorting their bodies in weird and inhumane ways, and when the 90 seconds are up, other participants have to snap the player out of it. Regardless of what happens during the 90 seconds, the player would always talk about how exciting and warm the experience felt. The teenagers go for rounds and rounds, but things go south when 14-year-old Riley gets possessed by Mia’s late mother and Mia selfishly lets the possession go on for much longer, thus unleashing an evil spirit and putting Riley in grave danger.
The consequences of letting a possession go over time is no pretty sight. In fact, it is absolutely gory and nauseating that you will want to look away, but you’re left staring at the screen because you’re frozen in shock. As we said, there are going to be plenty of violent rug-pulls in this movie, and none of them gets easier to watch over time. This is especially since Talk To Me has some of the most impressive special effects make-up we’ve seen in a horror movie this year. The ghosts and spirits we see aren’t mere shadows in the dark or are created by technology. They’re bloated, disfigured and decaying. Our human characters go through ugly and scary transformations when possessed too.
And if the shocking visuals and bursts of violence aren’t enough for a weak and easily frightened heart, the Philippous play with the audience’s emotions as well. Sweet innocent Riley is fighting for his life and viewers root for him with every passing second. Mia is dealing with severe grief and depression after losing her mother, and being haunted by the evil spirits and her own mother, only turns her more and more into a shell of a person. As unlikeable as she is, one can’t help but feel the weight of her grief when she reminisces about her dead mother and begins to lose her sense of reality. Even Max, who has very little screen time, becomes a character viewers get attached to in the movie’s climax. Talk To Me has gotten viewers in a tight grip both in heart and in fear.
Of all the cast members, Bird and Wilde put up the strongest performance as Riley and Mia. Even in scenes where Bird isn’t talking, viewers are reactive and stirred. As for Wilde, her depiction of Mia as she spirals into her failing mind, is a journey viewers embark on with her as we try to make sense of what’s real and what isn’t along with her.
The foreshadowing in Talk To Me is fantastic too. No tiny detail or incident is without reason and the directors bring everything to a full circle close with an unexpected third act and conclusion. The conclusion does come swiftly and violently – much like the opening scene of the house party in the prologue – but it’s nothing some deep thinking won’t fix when you’re on the car ride home.
Running for an hour and 35 minutes, Talk To Me is well-paced. Some may argue that the first bit of the film may be a bit long (the house party where shit really hits the fan comes 40 minutes in) but if one pays attention enough, you will find that whatever that happens prior to that party will be relevant towards the end.
In all, Talk To Me is gripping, violent and creepy. It effortlessly blends an unsettling ghost tale with themes of mental health to bring an elevated horror movie that fits today’s modern sensibilities and taste. The gore is shocking and the cast is strong. Talk To Me may be Danny and Michael Philippou’s first feature film, but we’re already hoping for more. Fingers crossed.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Danny and Michael Philippou’s Talk To Me is spunky, creepy and gory. With plenty of violent and shocking moments throughout this arthouse film, this is one of the strongest horrors to come out of 2023.
Story - 9/10
Direction - 9/10
Characterisation - 9/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10