Talk to Me may tell a familiar tale, but the raw, fearsome talent of Australian YouTube stars-turned-movie-directors Danny and Michael Philippou, aka RackaRacka, makes it a harrowing 95-minute journey. The opening shot alone, a long take following a guy through a crowded party that goes from 0 to WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED in the blink of an eye, announces that this film is here to fuck you up and take no prisoners.
Based on a concept from Daley Pearson, best known as Thor’s roommate, Darryl, Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman’s script quickly establishes the young characters and gets to the inciting incident quickly. No slow burn here! (This film is only distributed by A24, as evident from the multiple production logos at the beginning and the clear sense that this is not A24 Horror as it’s stereotypically known. It would feel at home under any studio banner, but luckily it’s got the A24 branding to mark it as Good Horror. Not elevated horror! It’s a real horror movie, thank fuck, not a quiet meditation on grief.)
Mia, who’s coming up on two years since her mom died—okay there IS grief happening here, but no quiet meditating—attends a party with her best friend, Jade, and Jade’s little brother, Riley. They want to check out the hot new party game in town, which involves…grabbing the ceramic embalmed hand of a psychic medium—or so the story goes—and letting yourself be possessed. It’s gotta be fake, right? It is not fake, and it is creepy as hell.
The Philippous stage these party scenes with disquieting normality, as teenagers pull out their phones to record these possession events the same way they might record someone doing a keg stand. When you’re a teenager, danger is a thrill and consequences are for squares. It’s key that these kids believe that they are messing with forces beyond their control, and they just think it’s fun. Some rules have been passed down, like the words of power and the maximum length you should allow yourself to be possessed. Where did these rules come from? No one knows. It’s Bloody Mary for Gen Z.
The Philippous make the possessions even more chilling by varying the perspective, showing us the spirit when it’s Mia grabbing the hand but not letting us see what any other characters see when they’re on the chair. Being possessed, though, apparently feels great, despite what it may look like from the outside, so these kids have a ball. The film really nails that vibe of a party game stupid teens would totally play like ha ha ha let’s commune with the other side ha ha lol OH FUCK OH FUCK OH FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK.
It will come as no surprise that at some point, a possession goes horribly, horribly wrong, and it’s the most horrific and brutal scene I’ve seen all year. Actually, all of the most horrific and brutal scenes I’ve seen all year are in this movie. The Philippous bring all the intensity of their horror-comedy videos like *checks notes* “Ronald McDonald Playground Slaughter!”—fittingly, a Bloody Mary riff about a boy named Riley—and ramp it up even higher, with vicious camera movements, excellent makeup, and skillful level of artifice to pull off nerve-shredding violence without the use of CGI. This motherfucker cost only $4.5 million, and that’s all you need when you’ve got filmmakers with the ability to pull off scenes that have me involuntarily saying, “No no no no no no no!” at the screen as I could see what was about to happen and was helpless to stop it.
There’s no question Danny and Michael Philippou are ones to watch as their nimble, confident direction eschews an excess of visual pizzazz for a more deliberate delivery of cool camerawork. I kept waiting for this film to go for a cheap jump scare and it never ever did, relying on supernatural dread and mind games to heighten your anxiety until the next assault on your eyes and ears (the sound design on this thing is engineered to make your soul crunch).
I love that the Philippous respect the sanctity of the urban legend and retain a sense of mystery surrounding the hand and what it does. It will also come as no surprise that Mia wants to talk to her dead mom, but we have no idea whether these are ghosts, demons, or something else entirely. The film dances around any clear answers, knowing the power of the unknown. The film establishes a visual language for possession that allows for some sly reveals as the spirits become more and more prominent—and also showcases the incredibly gross makeup and prosthetics.
Sophie Wilde gets put through the ringer as Mia, and she imbues the character with a potent mix of grief, compassion, curiosity, and distress. Out of the supporting cast, Zoe Terakes is a real standout as Hayley, as they’ve got such charisma that I honestly wanted to see more of that asshole goading people into letting ghosts inside them. And Miranda Otto as Jade’s overprotective but all-knowing mom lends a bit of humor to the film.
While the story builds very well, it doesn’t quite stick the landing for me because of a lack of clarity on how this all worked, and its grief story, though it gives Wilde some great material, feels a tad underdeveloped. In general, the film could have used a stronger script, if not a more inventive narrative, because this came really close to overcoming its familiar story and selling a fabulously executed ending. Regardless, Talk to Me is sure to be one of the most talked-about horror films of the year.