Talk To Me: Another Review. By Joe Muldoon.
Very few film companies have the audience pull of A24. Amongst my fellow Gen Z-ers, the A24 stamp over a release arguably eclipses the Marvel, or even Disney label – show us the iconic seal and we’ll turn up in droves. So devoted are A24 fans that we’ve been dubbed the Cult of A24, sometimes affectionately and sometimes pejoratively. To me, A24 is like a well-versed friend who’s really in tune with what’s hot in film; sometimes they’ll show you a dud, but in most cases, they’ll show you something great. The latter is the case with Talk To Me, the fierce feature debut of directing brothers Danny and Michael Philippou.
A rather unique take on a classic premise, our story has a group of teenagers experimenting with the occult – not through a Ouija board or possessed book, but this time through a ceramic hand that allegedly contains the embalmed hand of a long-dead medium. Sinister videos have been circulating amongst youngsters at a high school, the footage showing supposedly authentic possessions taking place during a strange party game.
Still reeling from the death of her mother two years ago, Mia (Sophie Wilde, in her debut film role) mostly avoids her father, whose company she finds to be depressing, and spends the majority of her time at the house of her best friend, Jade (Alexandra Jensen). Wanting to attend a party with her boyfriend Daniel (Otis Dhanji), Jade invites Mia along, also reluctantly allowing her younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) to tag along.
At the party, the boisterous co-hosts Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Joss (Chris Alosio) introduce a creepy game that apparently acquaints its participants with the spirit world. The game is simple: the participant is strapped into a chair, following which they grasp their fingers around an ominous porcelain hand, saying the phrase, “talk to me”. The next step is to say the phrase, “I let you in”, whereupon the participant will be spiritually inhabited, a 90-second time window provided by spectators in order to prevent permanent possession.
Keen to make her way into Hayley’s good books, a sceptical Mia volunteers herself as a participant, torch-lit phone cameras filming the whole process. To the horrified surprise of the present naysayers, Mia experiences a rather startling possession, being brought back to her normal self before the 90-second window closes, the porcelain hand yanked from her iron grip. Thrilled by her paranormal experience, Mia longs to do it again, and a gathering is soon organised at Jade’s house behind the back of her mother, Sue (Miranda Otto). Several attendees opt to take their turn with the porcelain hand, soon realising that they’ve made a grave mistake.
With a devilish hellscape of hair-raising scares, grotesque practical effects, and terrifying imagery, there’s a very strong case to be made that the Philippous’ debut is the best horror release of 2023. In my cinemagoing experience, few films have elicited such a visceral reaction from audiences as has Talk To Me – in my screening, yelps and violent jolts echoed throughout the room, one poor cinemagoer audibly wheezing in shock throughout a particularly intense sequence.
Many horror films have attempted to speak to the youngest generation of horror fans, but few have done so successfully. At best, they’ve been a little off the mark, but at worst, they’ve been excruciating misfires, with 2022’s utterly pointless Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel being a prime example. Likely helped along by the Philippous’ experience with their wildly successful YouTube channel RackaRacka, the so-called ‘social media generation’ has been catered to wonderfully here. Youthful woes –anxiety, grief, loneliness– are handled with genuine care, and they find themselves seamlessly woven into the story without feeling forced.
Aussie horror has been the recipient of long overdue attention as of late, due in part to the social media-fed resurgence in popularity of 2008 supernatural mockumentary Lake Mungo. With the release of Talk To Me, Aussie horror has now again taken centre stage, and with keen eyes pointed down under, the question is “what comes next?”
By Joe Muldoon
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