Creepy with crackling suspense, Talk To Me is a fantastic, supernatural horror film from co-directors Michael and Danny Philippou. Originally a short story by Daley Pearson, the screenplay was written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman. As their first feature-length directorial debut, the Philippou brothers bring a tense atmosphere and dread in a tangible tale about grief, peer pressure, and evil forces.
Mia, played by Sophie Wilde, is a kind-hearted teenager who is mourning the death of her beloved mother. Being unable to emotionally connect with her father, she turns to her best friend, Jade, and her family as a support system. Jade’s family, consisting of her mother Sue, and her younger brother Riley welcome Mia into their lives. Mia is particularly close to Riley and is akin to a second sister to him.
One night, Jade and Mia sneak out of the house to attend a party. Jade wants some time with Daniel, her boyfriend, while Mia is more of a tag-along. She seems to struggle to fit in. Daniel’s group of rowdy pals play a game with a mysterious embalmed hand. The hand can allow whoever is holding it to become possessed by a spirit. If the spell is broken within 90 seconds, the participant is unharmed and left exhilarated by the experience. In an effort to gain acceptance among the boisterous group, Mia bravely volunteers to play. The teens lose themselves in the fun of the game and take things too far. Things invariably go wrong. As a result, Mia finds herself in the middle of a terrifying life-and-death struggle with supernatural forces.
One might describe the plot as a séance gone wrong, but it is much more than that. Mia, as a grieving lonely teenager, is vulnerable. It doesn’t take much to manipulate her into poor decisions on account of her vulnerabilities. This trope is the core of most supernatural horror films after all. Emotionally crippled main characters are frequently associated with supernatural manipulation. In Talk To Me, the filmmakers present this concept in a fresh way that connects profoundly as a storytelling mechanism. As Mia is pulled deeper and deeper into the horror of the situation, it really gets to you. Experiencing her journey in this dark and thrilling movie is bone-chilling.
Another clever accomplishment of the film is that it manages to answer just enough questions to be satisfying, while still maintaining a tantalizing mystery. We never fully learn where the embalmed hand comes from, how it works, or how it came into the hands of these teens in the first place. But this works wonderfully to keep you thinking long after the film ends. However, we learn enough to know what is happening to Mia with excellent timing. And these bits of information drop-in nicely (and creepily) as the tension and horror escalate.
Talk To Me is effective and creepy as hell! It doesn’t pull punches. In the very first scenes, we learn that all bets are off. Got a problem with teens in true peril? Walk away from this one, because it’s not going to land well.
This film has an impeccable emotional sway to it from beginning to end with layered nuance throughout. Concepts that are truly horrible, land with gut-wrenching efficacy, and from the perspective created, are totally believable. The tender moments of the story are also potent. They are necessary and create the emotional stakes that entrap the audience in Mia’s journey. Additionally, the filmmakers nail something else that many horror films miss, the ending. It is terrifying, heartbreaking, and perfect.
Sophie Wilde is wonderful as Mia. She is expressive and spot-on in her performance. Her talent draws you into Mia’s plight and adds more power to the film. Riley, played by Joe Bird is fantastic as are all the actors in the cast. Zoe Terakes, as Hayley brings a beautiful energy to the screen as a spunky youth and Chris Alosio is perfect as the ringleader of the game. Daniel, Jade’s beau, performed by Otis Dhanji offers a nuanced quality in his relationship with Jade. Alexandra Jensen who plays Jade also brings in just the right tone to her more cynical character. And Miranda Otto, of Lord of the Rings fame, as Sue, Jade, and Riley’s mom is spot on. The casting is excellent, and everybody brings their A-game.
Editing, sound design, and cinematography all move the story along successfully, as they should. The séance scenes are filmed partially in montage form and really capture the raucous nature of thrill-seeking teenagers. You can fully relate to the fun of the game, without losing the trepidation that looms constantly. When we drop out of the montage and move into serious scenes, the technical work is just as effective.
With a successful screening at the Sundance Film Festival, Talk To Me arrived with much anticipation as a midnight feature at SXSW. Picked up by A24 and scheduled for a July 28th theatrical release, this tight little flick will impress upon release. It has everything a film needs to please genre fans across the board, especially those who prefer quality over shlock. Sophisticated and yet still fresh and relatable, Talk To Me is highly recommended.
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