Indie studio A24’s reputation has reached a point where many people, myself included, are automatically interested in any project bearing their name. Even their misses are at least interesting, but when they hit, they put out some of the most innovative, exciting, and thought-provoking work in recent film. Their horror releases especially have brought the genre to new heights via auteur-driven successes like Hereditary, Pearl, The Witch, and many more. Their latest, Talk to Me, helmed by Australian YouTubers and brothers Danny and Michael Philppou, continues their winning streak while also boasting a little bit more mass-market appeal than some of their other titles.
As the second anniversary of her mother’s death approaches, 17-year-old Mia (Sophie Wilde) is struggling to deal with her grief and a strained relationship with her father (Marcus Johnson). When she arrives at her friend Jade’s (Alexandra Jensen) house the pair discuss going to a party hosted by Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Joss (Chris Alosio), who have been posting videos online of themselves and friends engaging in a creepy, supernatural game. Jade also invites her boyfriend Daniel (Otis Dhanji), whom Mia had once dated, and reluctantly allows her younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) to tag along. Upon arriving, Hayley is displeased by the number of people Jade has brought with her, but quickly moves on to the main event.
Joss had acquired what looks to be a statue of a hand which he claims actually holds the severed limb of a psychic inside. He and Hayley state that upon lighting a candle, a person should then grasp the figure as if going for a handshake and then say, “Talk to me.” This will cause a spirit to appear before them with whom they can communicate. At this point they should say, “I let you in,” inviting the spirit to possess their body and speak to the rest of the people in the room. Hayley also makes clear that after 90 seconds the connection must be broken and the candle extinguished to prevent the possession from possibly becoming permanent. Many in the group are skeptical, but Mia eagerly volunteers to participate, and so is tightly strapped into a chair and sat before the hand. When it works she is initially horrified, but then calms down and continues. Despite being stuck in her trance past the 90-second mark, when it’s over she reveals that she found the experience to be incredible.
The following night, Daniel wants to take part in the ritual and so Jade invites everyone to her house after her mother (Miranda Otto) leaves for work. Daniel’s experience is decidedly weirder than Mia’s which causes him to temporarily storm off in embarrassment, but the party continues without him and all of the older kids take repeated turns with the hand. When 15-year-old Riley wants to join in his sister refuses to allow it, but shortly afterward she and Daniel leave the room together and the rest of the group agree to let him have a go for a shorter period of 50 seconds. His attempt quickly takes a horrifying turn and leaves the group to try to figure out what exactly happened and how they can stop it, all while Mia is haunted by visions of her mother and feels her sanity slipping away.
While there are moments of levity as we are first introduced to the friends at the core of the film, Talk to Me quickly becomes a relentlessly tense movie. While the whole cast perform well, Wilde expertly portrays the grief that leads her to make the increasingly risky decisions she does and even more ably conveys the mania that overtakes her. Likewise, Bird’s transition from wide-eyed innocent to tortured soul is equally convincing. There are some genuinely terrifying scenes captured here, and the question of just what is and isn’t real keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. The harrowing finale of course leaves things open for a sequel, but the talent displayed by the filmmakers here should leave audiences very receptive for more. I would be surprised if a better horror title comes out this year. ★★★★★
rated r for strong / bloody violent content, some sexual material, and language throughout.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor