Talk to Me

Talk to Me

2023, R, 94 min. Directed by Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou. Starring Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Miranda Otto, Alexandria Steffensen, Marcus Johnson.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., July 28, 2023

On the two-year anniversary of her mother’s death, Mia (Wilde) would like her attention to be anywhere else. So she flees her house to stay with Jade (Jensen) and Jade’s younger brother Riley (Bird). Their family has effectively taken her in while Mia struggles to reconnect with her father (Johnson). The group soon finds themselves at a local séance where they can commune with an undead spirit using a hand-shaped talisman. But when Mia forms an unhealthy obsession with the spirit world, the friends soon learn that death is not a one-way door.

Early in the film, Talk to Me reminds us of how much fun it is to understand the “rules” of a horror movie. The rules behind the spirit hand are simple: Light a candle, open a connection, and invite the ghost in. Mia’s friends also know that no one should remain in contact with a spirit for more than 90 seconds. Some films would spend most of their running time revealing these boundaries. Giving this horror setup clear guide rails from the outset is an ingenious piece of storytelling.

These flirtations with the afterlife build to a sequence where things finally veer out of control. Up to this point, writers/directors Danny and Michael Philippou lean into the comedic potential of social media-friendly possessions, but when the group of friends pushes a little too far, Talk to Me explodes into violence. This is one of the best horror scenes of the year so far, as the combination of practical effects and dynamic camera movements ramps up the tension until a final, terrible release. Even better, the Philippous anchor this violence in the emotional connections between characters. People freeze or are hurt trying to save their loved ones, and all the thinly veiled posturing of these too-cool teenagers is wiped clean in an instant.

And then, just as quickly, the movie succumbs to convention. As Mia and her friends deal with the fallout of that final possession, the narrative begins to work at odds with the performances, backing characters into corners that seem to conflict with the relationships they’ve built onscreen. The best horror allows its characters to make the right decisions and then subvert them; Talk to Me moves forward with an unexpected turn toward hostility. Trauma has become a catch-all shorthand for many horror filmmakers, and as much as the Philippous prove their worth as horror directors, as writers the relationship between two families bonded by trauma proves too complex for them to bring home.

Talk to Me is hardly a bad horror film, but the disconnect between what was and what could be looms large over the final act. I will give the Philippous this: Few films end with as much confidence as Talk to Me. With the best bits up front and at the end, the movie is structured perfectly to make a lasting impact on horror fans.

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Talk to Me, Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou, Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Miranda Otto, Alexandria Steffensen, Marcus Johnson

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