When it comes to horror films, viewers should know the drill by now: a family moves into an old house and things start to go bump in the night; a group of students explore an abandoned building and malevolent spirits follow them home; a girl receives a haunted doll that never should’ve seen the light of day…
That is to say, the outcomes are often predictable, as Hollywood these days seems to baulk at the thought of trying something new, and is content to churn out sequel or remake after another.
So it’s always nice when a movie comes out that breaks the mould. Case in point: “Talk to Me”, the debut feature by Australian brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, who have quite the following on their Youtube channel “RackaRacka” thanks to their film spoofs.
Happily – if “happy” can be used to describe a film about possession and parties gone dastardly wrong – “Talk To Me” is one of the better horror flicks in recent memory.
The plot of this Aussie-made independent film follows Mia (Sophie Wilde), who, on the second anniversary of her mother’s death, sneaks out to a party with her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Jade’s little brother Riley (Joe Bird).
There, as it turns out, a group of teenagers have acquired a ceramic-encased severed hand that allows them to speak with spirits. It might sound foreboding but, teens being stupid teens, they are taken in by the rush they experience while communing with the dead.
So, how does it work? The rules are simple, and not creepy at all:
1. Light a candle, hold the hand and say “talk to me”.
2. Say “I let you in” to allow the spirit that shows up to inhabit your body.
3. Do not let the process go on for more than 90 seconds, or the spirit will take control permanently.
4. Blow out the candle to close the door to the beyond.
Things take a sinister turn, as they tend to do, when Riley gives it a go – and the spirit possessing him claims to be Mia’s mother! This causes her to let the process go on beyond the safe limits, and catastrophic events ensue.
Now, horror movies need a likeable and sympathetic protagonist so the audience doesn’t end up wishing for his or her untimely demise. This is Wilde’s film to carry, and the 25-year-old does a really good job.
Her Mia switches convincingly from being anguished, frightened and determined to deadly, manic and possessed, and you are able to empathise with her even as her decisions get increasingly questionable as the events unfold.
One takeaway from her character? Mia should have gone to therapy after her mother passed, instead of letting trauma build up over the years.
Another standout performance comes from Bird’s Riley. Too young to grasp the severity of the situation, he ends up being the unwilling pawn of the spirits trying to take hold of his body.
The British-Australian teen portrays his character’s innocence effortlessly, and his interaction with Mia is genuinely sweet as he leans on her as a big sister more than his own.
Most importantly, his Riley is not whiny or self-absorbed as most 14-year-olds can be, which makes the suffering his character goes through all that much harder to watch.
Also worth highlighting is Miranda Otto (“The Lord of the Rings”; Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”), who makes the most of her supporting role as Jade and Riley’s fraught mother.
Thankfully, despite the horrors that unfold, “Talk To Me” doesn’t rely on jump scares or loud sound effects. Instead, once it establishes the tone in the opening scene wherein the previous owner of the hand stabs his brother before turning the knife on himself, the movie allows a sense of dread to build up expertly towards its terrifying climax.
There is some gore, though, so those who are squeamish, take note: the scene where Riley bangs his head repeatedly on the desk is particularly horrifying.
Overall, if you’re a fan of distribution company A24’s past horror movies like “Midsommar” and “Hereditary”, “Talk to Me” will be right up your alley.
Clocking in at a brisk 1 hour and 35 minutes, it’s a simple but effective film that will make you think twice about shaking someone’s hand.
As of press time, ‘Talk to Me’ is screening in selected cinemas nationwide.