Updated: Jul 15
The latest well-hyped horror film from A24 lives up to the advanced raves and cements itself as a new Oz horror classic, bolstered by some excellent performances by its young cast, robust scares and assured filmmaking from first-timers (and YouTube stars) Danny and Michael Philippou.
The plot reads like a standard teen horror template - at a party, a group of Aussie teens play a game called ‘talk to me’ that involves grasping an embalmed hand (supposedly severed from the arm of a psychic) and inviting spirits into the body of the holder. But sometimes, these spirits linger longer than intended and have sinister motives of their own.
The film kicks off with a long take following Cole (Ari McCarthy) as he roams around a house party looking for his brother. We are immediately drawn into a recognisable scene that ends suddenly and shockingly with a burst of violence. Following this jolt, we are introduced to our main characters, getting to know them and their relationships with one another.
Sophie Wilde gives a star-making performance as Mia, a teen girl mourning the loss of her mother and floating amongst a group of friendly and hostile teens, including Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Riley (Joe Bird), two siblings who have become her surrogate family. The closeness between the trio gives the film its heart which makes the dark turns more affecting and upsetting as the film goes on. Joss (Chris Alosio) and Hayley (Zoe Terakes) are the de facto ringleaders of the group, introducing the hand into the picture, explaining the rules and overseeing the possessions with a lackadaisical attitude, until things go pear-shaped. Hayley has a particular dislike of Mia and is only too happy to make her feel uncomfortable until Mia steps up and volunteers to be the game's first player. Stalwart Australian actress Miranda Otto anchors proceedings as Jade and Riley’s mother, Sue, going from funny Mum to grief-stricken and angry with her usual aplomb.
While the film does contain some of the tropes of the genre, it gleefully twists them beyond expectation while also building a palpable and escalating sense of dread. One way to describe the tone is Kids meets The Conjuring with a dose of A24 grief horror, but the film transplants those influences to Australia, freshening them in the process. And beneath the bickering teens and spooky shenanigans runs a dark vein of sadness and trauma, personified by Mia, who grapples with the murky details surrounding her mother's death, a strained relationship with her father and accusations from Sue when one of her children is injured after a round of the titular game. These tensions all combine to create a whirlwind of confusion and fear around Mia that goes a long way to ensuring her questionable decisions are somewhat believable. Mia (and the rest of the group) are wrestling with forces they barely understand, and often the only way they can think of to get out is to go through, via repeated variations of the very ritual that got them into trouble in the first place.
The Philippous and screenwriters (including Thor’s flatmate Daryl aka Daley Pearson) keep evolving the stakes, avoiding the repetition that often plagues lesser examples of the subgenre, all the while ensuring our sympathies lie with these teens and their plight. Despite the poor choices they make along the way, we willingly follow them in their desperate attempts to avoid the fate of some of their peers. The violence hits hard both physically and emotionally, and when the spirits start playing games with Mia, the emotion and fear become entwined, building to a climax that, while a touch predictable, again hits hard thanks to the craft of the filmmakers and the committed performances.
Talk To Me rises above some formative influences and the wave of hype that precedes it, cementing the Philippous as ones to watch (I can’t imagine what their Streetfighter adaptation might look like, but after this film, I am here for it) and will no doubt do the same for its talented young cast. When the film ended at my screening, there was a well-timed gasp from an audience member, which sums the film up perfectly - an emotional and scary ride that deserves to be seen and ‘talked’ about.