'Talk to Me' Review
July 26, 2023
The horror genre has been experiencing a small renaissance as of late, with more than a handful of fresh-faced directors announcing themselves to the world through the art of the scare. Robert Eggers (The Witch), Jordan Peele (Get Out), Ari Aster (Hereditary), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), and Julia Ducournau (Raw) are just a few that have risen to the top of the game in the last few years. To use a term that has become a meme at this point: They elevated a genre that has historically been disrespected.
Now with the pandemic forever shifting the theatrical landscape, it seems that horror movies are the only things that are guaranteed to put butts in seats. Add in the rise of technology, and it’s never been easier to enter into the business. Australian YouTube sensations Danny and Michael Philippou, a.k.a RackaRacka, have done just that with Talk to Me, an exceedingly well-crafted, albeit slightly shallow, debut feature.
A drug is storming through the streets of Australia, hooking in teens with unprecedented potency. It’s not heroin, cocaine, or even some other narcotic you’ve ever heard of. It’s actually a sick game where the contestant holds onto a ceramic scrawled with illegible writing. Uttering the words “talk to me” conjures up a dead spirit that can only be seen by the person touching the hand. An even greater high can be achieved by saying “I let you in,” which allows the spirit to take control of the person’s body. But be warned: Holding the hand for more than ninety seconds will allow the spirit to remain in the host forever, essentially rendering them a puppet of the undead.
Mia (Sophie Wilde) is a teenager riddled with guilt and trauma from the semi-recent unexplained suicide of her mother. She’s become the sad sack of her class, a status she would like to turn around. The best way to do that is to get in with the cool kids, who are all about the hand. Mia quickly becomes addicted to the feeling of dissociating from this mortal world. “I don’t feel alone anymore” is her foolproof excuse to her protective friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), who feels like this thing is snowballing into dangerous territory. Jade is absolutely right, as like any regular drug, the good times eventually fade out and the darkness begins to take over, only this time in the form of unholy entities wreaking havoc on your body and soul.
There’s a social undercurrent relating to young people’s unquenchable thrift to become viral sensations throughout much of the horror. An exciting opening tracking shot sees one of the victims of the hand executing the wishes of the damned, with a crowd of teens recording the whole thing. Earning tens of millions of views through their YouTube channel, the Philippou brothers are adept at commenting on seeking online attention.
They’re not as adept at handling the topics of grief and loss, however, as Mia’s relationship with her deceased mother and distraught single father never feels more than anything we haven’t seen in several other “smart” horror movies. And while it is a little refreshing to have a movie with a simple premise and rules, there is a desire for more information to be supplied regarding the perpetrators.
The craftsmanship on display is quite remarkable. When people talk about the theatrical experience, they mostly mention the size of the screen and how it adds unparalleled scale to already mammoth productions like Oppenheimer and Avatar: The Way of Water. But the thing that theaters do best is suppress your senses, keeping you locked to the moment, and focusing only on what’s in front of you. Talk to Me will surely not play as well at home, where the bone-crunching sound design and crisp cinematography by Aaron McLisky won’t be able to take over ears and eyes to its full effect.
The reaction from you and the audience during the wince-inducing moments is what keeps Talk to Me alive, pushing it to be a cut above the rest of the pack. The Philippous seem to be fast learners when it comes to filmmaking, and I’m excited to see what the future holds in store for them.