2023 | rated R | starring Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jansen, Miranda Otto | directed by Danny and Michael Philippou | 1h 35m |
Deciding to take part in a social media craze going viral, Mia (Sophie Wilde) takes her skeptical friend Jade (Alexandra Jansen) and her younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) to a house party, the center of which is a mysterious embalmed hand and the chance to get possessed and talk to the dead. The kids do it for kicks, adhering to a strict set of rules for how interact with the hand, no more than 90 seconds or the spirit stays with the host, rules that start to come undone as the possessions invade Mia and Jade’s life with a particular interest in Riley.
Talk to Me is a gangbusters horror movie. Atmospheric, confident, creepy and well-acted. Like some of the best horror it has a set of rules to be bent and broken with dire consequences and doesn’t shy away from both visceral body horror shockers and character head trips. It’s an A24 horror film with their focus on character and trauma mixed with a Blumehouse high concept, crowd-pleasing ghost story. Directors Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou draw out the best of both worlds, zigging and zagging between the tropes to keep us thrown off balance. The film is both sober and fun and just nasty enough.
I love the world building at work here. Talk to Me treats the supernatural with the same workmanlike approach that Ghostbusters did. Of course, in a world where we can use the embalmed hand, of what may or may not have been a satanist to contact the dead, teenagers will use it to get high and record themselves. What’s reaching out to the great beyond when you can go viral by giggling at someone flopping around in a chair. That’s what we’re talking about there and those house party scenes with the hand and the friendly teenage ribbing are the film’s best set pieces.
The ritual has rules. You have to grip the hand, say “talk to me”, at which time the conduit sees some horrible ghost or old hag in the room, then “I let you in” allows them to posses the body and the ghost speak through them. The story unfolds cleverly, introducing that Mia is suffering from the death of her mother early and distracting us just enough so that when it brings this plot point back around the connection is surprising and satisfying. However, the demons have intentions for the soul of Riley, which sparks a race to save him from unimaginable torture that only Mia can see.
Though it occasionally wonders off the efficient path and becomes choppy as if finds a climax, most of Talk to Me clicks into place just right. It blends the real and the surreal beautifully with subtle visuals right up until a finale that’s as perfect as it is poetically inevitable. I enjoy horror movies that blend the monsters of film with the monsters in our heads be them It Follows, the overrated Smile or the grandmother of these movies, that the Philippou’s themselves worked on, The Babadook. The Philippou’s deliver a fresh take to elevated horror and one that doesn’t eye-roll away from the horror part to create metaphors about trauma, but manages to juggle both effortlessly, embracing the craft of horror for it’s own spine-tingly sake, and not just as a mechanism for it’s trauma story. It’s refreshing and, so far, Talk to Me is the best horror movie of the year.