The difference between this A24 spookhouse thriller and ones of the past is that Talk To Me sneaks up on you, clinches your throat and throttles you with fear until the very end. That is the best way to describe this Aussie take on a cautionary tale of playing with the dark arts. We’ve seen it with Ouija boards and urban myths in other films, but rarely as heart-stopping and shocking as twin directors Danny and Michael Philippou have cursed us with (and to think this is their debut film!).
This creeper of a horror show comes courtesy of first-time feature scribes Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman from a concept by Daley Pearson who has been involved in several TV movies and mini-series. They have successfully tapped into the hearts and minds of the young and curious with fun and horrifying results. Although the beginning seems somewhat tame for this type of movie, the thrills build up to an unnerving crescendo by the time the film comes to its Twilight Zone-like ending.
A raucous party is going down. Drugs and alcohol abound as young people party hard until one young man, Cole (Ari McCarthy), frantically goes looking for his brother. He suspects he’s in a locked room. He busts open the door and drags his brother out, apparently strung out on something. As Cole carries him through the crowd something shocking takes place and has everyone disperse. The scene is oddly shot and nearly has a tinge of dark humor to it and if it wasn’t so dreadful it may elicit a laugh.
Fast forward to 17-year-old Mia (Sophie Wilde) who is dealing with the second anniversary of her mother’s suicide. In the few minutes that we get to know Mia, we feel her emotional trauma, her distance from her father, Max (Marcus Johnson), and her bond with her best friend, Jade (Alexandra Jensen), and her family. There is also Jade’s boyfriend, Daniel, who was a brief boyfriend to Mia long ago. Since Mia’s mother’s passing they have been tremendous support for her. What makes the horror so grounded is the close relationships that are created with such ease.
Mia and Jade are invited to a party by some troublesome friends, Joss and Hayley. This is no ordinary party, it’s the beginning of a dare, like getting in front of a mirror and chanting “Candyman.” We all know how well that goes.
This time a cryptic severed embalmed hand is presented to the group and they are asked to volunteer to be tied up as a candle is lit. Then they are to grab the hand and recite, “Talk to me” after witnessing something horrid they must utter, “I let you in.” The one rule, you are not allowed to maintain a hold of the hand for more than 90 seconds, when the candle is to be blown out to “close the door.” Nobody quite has an answer as to why 90 seconds, but they soon find out. Supposedly, the person grabbing hold of the hand experiences a trip to the spirit world. That trip is said to be euphoric, like the ultimate high.
It’s all fun and games until Mia’s experience and encounter with her long-dead mother. Or is it? What she displays while under scares the hell out of everyone in the room including Jade’s 15-year-old brother, Riley (Joe Bird), who Mia has a disturbing message for from the other side.
The next day, the group decides to do the ritual again, this time at Jade’s house. Riley becomes braver as he watches the group of them one by one take the hand and fall under its spell for nearly 90 seconds. The party becomes wild as each one experiences a type of mini-possession. Daniel, curious and wanting not to be left out, finally volunteers, over Jade’s protests. The result is terribly uncomfortable and leaves Jade upset and Daniel begging to get rid of the recording.
Then Riley gets brave enough to ask. Jade insists that he’s too young and should not be part of it. After she leaves the room, he continues to plead with the group and Mia suggests only if he does it for 50 seconds. What transpires is downright terrifying and sets this thriller of a terror coaster ride into high gear without letting up. The Philippou brothers take us down the darkest of rabbit holes with such frightful gasps that it’s hard to catch one’s breath. It’s almost as if they’ve managed to instill Mia’s panic and manic moods within us. We feel the jackhammer of her heart and we cannot help but plead with the filmmakers to not take us down certain roads and yet they do it anyway with great success and to our exhaustion.
Once again, A24 has latched on to something unique in the horror genre, a film with characters we actually care about and a bizarre enough idea to thrill and chill us to the bone. The Philippou’s direction is both dizzying and unpredictable. They know how to easily win over our hearts, mess with our minds and raise the hairs on the back of our necks. Talk To Me is the epitome of terror.
Directed by: Danny and Michael Philippou
Release Date: July 28, 2023
Run Time: 95 Minutes
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