The extreme nature of the horror genre has made it a safe place for free expression, which is also why it’s where so many young filmmakers make their first big splash. Such is the case with Michael and Danny Philippou, Youtubers known for their popular spoof videos who go balls to the wall with their freaky-as-Hell feature debut, Talk to Me. Having earned raves at Sundance earlier this year, which is where I heard people talking my ear off about it, the film arrives now and is everything it was promised to be. With a jolt of ghoulish energy it serves as both an updated and much-scarier riff on Flatliners while capturing that classic ouija board mystique. This movie is going to scare one of your friends so bad they might not go to the movies with you anymore.
A terrific lead performance by Sophie Wilde anchors Talk to Me, although the entire cast is fantastic from top to bottom. She plays Mia, a young Australian woman who is still reeling from the overdose death of her mom, something her father doesn’t want to talk about. Mia instead stays away from home as much as possible, basically becoming part of her best friend Jade’s (Alexandra Jensen) family, along with her doting mother Sue (the always-great Miranda Otto), and young brother Riley (Joe Bird). Mia and Jade have been friends for years, but it’s clear that Mia has had some problems in the past, personal demons that make others wary around her.
Talk to Me is an extreme look at the lengths we will go to forget our pain, to distract ourselves from grief. When a viral video shows local partygoers getting possessed by an embalmed ceramic hand, purportedly the hand of a dead medium, Mia leaps at the opportunity to see if it’s real. Jade wants no part of it and figures this is all just a bunch of drunken nonsense, but Mia drags her along, with Riley, who is way too young for this madness, tagging with them.
Credit to the Philippou Bros. for organically capturing the kinetic energy and untamed freedom of the party atmosphere. These are young people living their best lives, indulging in the moment without a care in the world. This is exactly what Mia needed, and when the hands gets broken out, she’s all in to try it out for herself. Gripping the hand and saying the magic words, “Talk to me”, Mia is instantly possessed by a dark force that begins playing on her strongest desires. Mia goes well beyond the 90-second time limit, and this demonic entity tries to stay and not go back where it belongs.
The strength of Talk To Me is that it never goes too far in explaining things. The saying goes that “if you’re explaining, you’re losing”, and that’s definitely true for a movie like this which relies so much on visceral terror. Mia finds that one of the dead spirits hanging around has vital information about her mother’s death. But is this entity telling the truth or using Mia for a sinister purpose. You can probably guess the answer to that, but nothing is quite so simple as Mia’s past comes back to haunt her, too. The film barrells through every plot twist, as with some truly ghastly things happening to the people closest to her. Credit to DP Aaron McLisky for mixing camera techniques to set a mood of constant unease, while never straying away from the gruesome aspects of which there are many. Even as the plot ramps up and gets out of control in the final act, the filmmakers plow ahead confidently, ending on a moment that will haunt audiences with its ramifications.
A24, the distributor that has the market cornered on buzzy “It” titles aimed at niche audiences, acquired Talk to Me for a reason. It’s the rare horror film that offers genuine scares and deep understanding. This could be a Midnight title playing at theaters for ages, while also offering enough to potentially launch a long-running genre franchise.
Talk to Me opens in theaters on July 28th.