By Brendan Graham
A24 certainly knows how to treat horror fans. From the very intense family curse of Hereditary to the spell-binding grip of The VVitch, and an extreme breakup in Midsommar. If the experience is unique or disturbing enough, A24 probably has its eyes on distributing that experience to the masses. Such was the case with the Sundance breakout hit, TALK TO ME. Australian youtube sensations, Danny & Michael Phillipou (also known as RackaRacka) have brought an absolute nightmare to the big screen with one of the strongest feature film debuts I’ve seen in a long time.
In TALK TO ME, we are introduced to Mia (Sophie Wilde), a teenager who has lost her mother due to an overdose and has a strained relationship with her dad because of it. Looking to escape her grief, she convinces her long-time best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) to join her for a party where the host has been communicating with the dead using a strange embalmed hand. Those brave enough to partake must grip the hand with theirs, and mutter the words ‘Talk to Me’ to open a direct line to the other side, which also allows that spirit to take over for a short amount of time. There are strict rules to follow in order to keep the gate between the living and the dead closed, and knowing teenagers, they can only follow the rules for so long before making a mistake that may forever haunt them.
The story itself sounds quite familiar, and rituals involving the dead have been seen on the big screen for generations now, i.e. Ouija boards as one example. Teenagers play around with forces they don’t understand, summoning them to our world and racing against time to undo their actions. We’ve seen it all before, but not to the malevolent level that TALK TO ME reaches during its runtime. Connecting to the other side hasn’t felt this exhilarating or dangerous in a long time, the Philippou brothers have truly brought a nightmare to life and we’re along for the ride. The movie establishes its tone during the beginning sequence, where the film bares its teeth, reaches out but doesn’t let you go.
What impressed me the most in TALK TO ME, were the characters and performances that drive the action and the emotion. Teenage characters are typically rather obnoxious, and the audience usually wants something horrible to happen to them. We don’t experience that here, the script is solid and the characters are relatable and genuine. Sophia Wilde commands the screen as Mia, a character that is tormented with grief (and later guilt) and is struggling to adapt to a world where her mother isn’t there anymore while also allowing something truly horrible to stalk her from the other side. In fact, all of the young people in this movie are tremendously talented.
I found it very refreshing as well that we get a possession tale that has nothing to do with religion at all, and instead of the stereotypical demons taking over, we have desperate spirits looking to feel alive again. I’ve seen my fair share of horror movies and it takes a lot to rattle me, but count TALK TO ME on the list of movies that got under my skin and shook me to the core. It’s like the hand reached out from the screen and slapped me across the face. It rattled me without resorting to cheap jumpscares or repeats of usual genre fare. The makeup designs for the spirits are delightfully disgusting towards the end, and the violence explodes without feeling overindulged.
If I have any critiques it would be that the ending is very divisive, and some audience members may think that it’s too predictable. Also worth noting, the Australian accents can be quite strong, so if you’re seeing this with a lower volume or with disrespectful audience members, you may have trouble catching all of the dialogue.
TALK TO ME has become one of my new favorite horror movies, and I cannot wait to see what these brothers have in store for us next. Reach out to the other side and see TALK TO ME and be ready for an experience you will not soon forget.