"Talk to Me" stars Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Miranda Otto, Zoe Terakes, Chris Alosio, Marcus Johnson, and Alexandria Steffensen. Released on July 28, 2023, the film has a young woman encountering the supernatural from a severed hand.
The film featured the directorial debut of Danny and Michael Philippou, known for their Australian YouTube channel, RackaRacka. It is based on a concept by Daley Pearson. Teenagers will never learn the dangers of disturbing the spiritual world. No matter how many times we try to warn them, these dimwitted teens keep on doing it, and they eventually pay the price for it. It's no wonder we keep seeing horror movies centering on this trope because we still can't get enough of their stupidity. Unsurprisingly, those hits keep coming, as we got another addition to this list that's been gaining strong word of mouth since its Sundance premiere in January. If you thought Disney's latest adaptation of its creepy theme park attraction and a giant Megalodon were the only things delivering the late-summer frights, you thought wrong. But is it a worthwhile and frightening experience that's as terrifying as people say it was, or is this a tradition that should be left well alone? Let's find out.
The story centers on Mia (Wilde), a seventeen-year-old struggling with losing her mother, Rhea (Steffensen), who died from suicide. She also has a distant relationship with her father, Max (Johnson). One night, Mia, her best friend Jade (Jensen), and Jade's young brother Riley (Bird) snuck out to attend Hayley (Terakes) and Joss's (Alosio) house party, where they encountered the main attraction: a severed embalmed hand. The hand conjures spirits by lighting the candle and saying, "Talk to me", allowing the spirit to possess the victim. But, of course, they have to blow out the candle before ninety seconds pass. When Mia volunteered to try out the hand, she discovered a feeling she'd never felt. Unfortunately, her desire to use the hand results in Mia and her friends facing dire consequences from the spirit world.
I've heard a lot about this latest piece of supernatural chaos. It's not just from the trailer I've seen multiple times throughout the past few months but also from the rave reviews it's been getting since January. Many horror movies involving possession don't usually have reviews that are as praise-worthy as those made by intelligent filmmakers, mainly because the genre is used as a gimmick nowadays. So it was a relief to see another one gaining that much success. It's also enough for me to be a part of that experience, especially since A24 distributes it, which is usually a recipe for success. I was planning on seeing it last weekend when I first saw it playing at my closest theater, but then the Ninja Turtles came around and grabbed my attention. Luckily, the theater decided to keep "Talk to Me" for another week, finally allowing me to see the film.
So after experiencing the creepiness that was "Talk to Me", does it live up to those expectations set by early reviewers? As someone who has endured many supernatural horror movies for years, I would say "absolutely". Yes, it's another horror film about demonic spirits possessing unsuspecting teenagers and driving them to kill themselves and each other. It's a recipe for a scary spiritual treat made for date-night audiences. However, "Talk to Me" is also a constantly thrilling and nightmarishly frighting experience that's expertly directed and irresistibly compelling. It's like the severed hand shown in the movie. It grabs hold of me by the first encounter and never lets go until its shocking conclusion. That's how you know how immensely impressed I am with the final product.
"Talk to Me" offers the usual supernatural storyline we've seen many times before. However, the only thing that helped it stand apart from other formulaic films was the screenplay by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman. Amid the confrontation with the spirit realm, "Talk to Me" depicts a teenager's struggle with grief, trauma, and loss, in which Mia is grasping over the sudden death of her mother. Instead of showcasing the path to healing and forgiveness, the film reflects this issue's dark side as to how those things can result in a victim being manipulative, leading to severe consequences for themselves and others. It displays the authenticity of modern teenage angst and how it drives them to perform terrifying actions, even from unknown forces from the other side. With the supernatural added to the mix, it makes this haunting reflection even more unnerving, with a satisfying and tight script that earns its terror. Even the movie's ending is shocking enough to send chills down my spine, which I haven't felt since "The Lighthouse". It periodically enters familiar territory with the genre, but the screenplay made them work for me by seamlessly blending its horror vibes with real-life issues, including grief.
"Talk to Me" is another example of a horror movie relying on its narrative and themes to drive the terror instead of constant jump scares, gore, and torture porn. Sure, the latter elements can be fun to witness, but they can also be tiring when it takes little time to focus on the characters and plot. Many up-and-coming filmmakers understood this process better than anyone else, with them focusing on the story first and then the scares later. Twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou are no exceptions, as their direction effectively represents its nightmarish and grimly lit atmosphere and heart-pounding tension while also displaying the unsettling nature of teenage angst. The brothers are no strangers to horror, as they have been creating videos centering on different types of the genre on their YouTube channel for a decade. So for them to go from creating low-budget horror videos online to directing a full-length one for theaters was admittedly impressive. Fortunately for them, the transition was successful in my eyes. Regarding the creepy sound mixing, effective frights, and Aaron McLisky's immersive cinematography, the Philippou brothers displayed a revitalizing outlook of the well-known concept that isn't without its humanity and unsettlement.
In addition to those things, I will also credit the directors for their decision to use practical effects. CGI can help create monsters and unpleasant sequences, but it can only go so far as to bring absolute terror to its audiences based on how abundant it's used. "Talk to Me" takes the approach of using practical effects to ensure its disturbing realism. That includes the makeup design for the repulsive spirits and the possessed characters. It still amazes me what cheap props and authentic effects can accomplish on a lower budget instead of using only computer-generated imagery to cut corners and balloon the budget.
The film's cast consists of young and unknown actors that most of us may not be familiar with, except Miranda Otto, who's been in many movies we've seen like "Lord of the Rings". After watching the film, I feel these actors may find themselves on the Hollywood map sooner or later regarding their performances. The young actors portrayed their characters that are more humane and fun than the teens being obnoxious stereotypes, resulting in some well-deserved humor that doesn't feel too out-of-place. Sophia Wilde's first impression onscreen as Mia was understandably a sight to behold. She embraces the character's grieving state, which also comes packed with an emotional sense of dread. Alexandra Jensen also did very well with her performance as Jade, and Joe Bird's portrayal of Riley was superb, especially in specific scenes where he's possessed by a spirit. Miranda Otto was also terrific as Sue, Jade's mother, mainly for the one scene that gave me a good laugh.
Overall, "Talk to Me" is a terrifying and remarkably refreshing roller coaster that's gripping enough to hold you tight until the end. Its familiar horror elements may be present, but they're used effectively to reflect the disturbing nature of grief and trauma amid its supernatural presence. It's another example of relying on the genre's formula to scare audiences with unsettlement, storytelling, and anxiety instead of CGI monsters and loud jump scares. From its terrific cast to its stellar narrative and direction, the film is a riveting and appropriately nightmarish showcase of elevated horror that'll make you think twice before making contact with a disembodied hand. Even I don't want to touch it. I don't know where that thing has been, nor do I want to know. If you're into horror movies focusing on storytelling to generate creeps instead of formulaic jump scares, this movie is worth talking to.