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'Talk To Me': Dare me to hell
Wholly misrepresented by the TikTok hype, this imperfect A24 horror entry has more on its mind than being "the scariest movie of the year."
ANY THOUGHTFUL LAMENTATION ON MODERN GRIEF in a horror film will inevitably live in the shadow of Ari Aster’s Hereditary. So few films have ascribed their horrors with the same level of nuance or verve. Only a couple of films have since come out with that same pervading sense of dread: Aster’s next film, Midsommar, and David Bruckner’s excellent supernatural thriller, The Night House.
Albeit not as straight-faced as those films, Talk To Me is also about grief. Danny and Michael Philippou — better known as the Australian filmmaking collective, RackaRacka on YouTube — seem uninterested in joining the ‘elevated horror’ tapestry, though, even if it finds its distribution home in A24, the company that, by all accounts, started it all. No one from the film’s motley cast erupts into an Oscar-snub-worthy monologue that speaks about that grief. But hey, have you seen the way they RackaRacka twist their cameras? Fun stuff, sure.
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But yes, the impetus for the film’s horror comes from one character’s trauma and shortly loses its function once the film does its flips and dips. Any pervasive sense of dread that the film manages to build up to feel, gone.
Then, the phones come out. And instantly, it turns Talk To Me into a whole ‘nother film. See, it has all the hallmarks of a surefire horror hit: a straightforward premise, a pack of listless yet endearing teenagers, and a trigger-happy pace that will give any horror viewer accustomed to A24 slow-burn a rough case of whiplash. We learn at the onset that a mysterious relic — the subject (star?) of multiple viral TikToks, a deceased hand statue believed to belong to a dead clairvoyant — gives kids access to the otherworld by letting any and all types of spirits possess them.
But only ninety seconds at a time, though, a partygoer notes. Let the possession go on for any longer, and the spirits will “have you” for eternity, Society style. Why the arbitrary time limit? Who really knows? The Philippous waste no energy trying to explain the mechanics of the Cursed Hand: it’s fr fr the Gen-Z version of the Necronomicon from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, an off-limits demonic item that, through sheer teenage insolence and debauchery, gets inadvertently unlocked.
It doesn’t help that Mia (Sophie Wilde), a nosey teen unable to drown out her grief in her everyday dealings in suburban Adelaide, where she, her estranged dad, and her best friend, Jade (Alexandra Jensen), live, have business with the other world. With no ability to make any sound judgment, she guilt-sulks her bestie into throwing a party that gives her firsthand face time with the Cursed Hand to communicate with her deceased mom. Making things worse, she ropes in Riley (Joe Bird), Jade’s socially awkward younger brother, into her mess. Per ush, things go awfully awry. And so begins a more interesting, Ringu for Generation Snap, technophobic thriller.
The scarier parts of Talk To Me don’t come from the demonic entities Mia & Co. interface with. It’s in their mindless compulsion to record for a few seconds’ worth of attention and some change — zombies in the “oh, look at me” epidemic. Interestingly, too, those who hold the relic liken the feeling to one of intoxication, a fleeting moment of feeling something in a world rendered so devoid.
That happens at the film’s midpoint. As things go sour, we go back to the half-baked grief arc. It isn’t so much the performance that hinders it — Wilde is magnetic, really — but the writing. The film doesn’t offer her any strokes other than the ones that make her either mildly manipulative or wholly self-destructive. Of course, that could very well be the point: that being dealt the brunt of a hard life resigns one to a vicious cycle of destruction.
Talk To Me
2023 | dir. David Philippou, Michael Philippou | 🇦🇺 95 min
When a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill, until one of them goes too far and unleashes terrifying supernatural forces.