Let me in.
Or rather, listen as I tell you about directors Danny and Michael Philippou’s debut feature, Talk to Me, a ruthless possession horror film that goes straight for the jugular.
Written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman, we’re introduced to Mia (Sophie Wilde), an outcast still grieving over the sudden death of her mother. Her only friends are her second family, fellow teen Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and adolescent, Riley (Joe Bird). When the trio decides to attend a party, they discover a new game involving an embalmed hand that acts as a connection to the dead. But when the game goes too far and the dead begin invading the living realm, a new game arises.
Without getting too into detail—it’s more fun if you see it for yourself—what the filmmakers have done with Talk to Me is introduce an exciting new take on possession horror films that fits perfectly into the modern era while also calling back to fan favorites within the “fuck around and find out” genre. Those classic horror films that start with an entertaining party game in which bored teenagers toy with the occult for a laugh, only to realize that when you play with spirits, they play with you. Think movies like Witchboard or The Gate, along with more recent fare such as Ouija. Except with Talk to Me, Ouija boards and spell books are exorcized for an embalmed hand that forms an intimate connection with the spirits. Hysterical, am I right?
Well, these teens seem to think so, and that’s actually one of the more disturbing elements of Talk to Me. Through the spiritual world, the filmmakers craft a metaphor for the hardcore drugs that threaten to destroy kid’s lives. Scenes of partygoers recording horrific events on their phones or ignoring each other as they scroll social media speak to the way in which tech has disconnected us from one another. They use this insanely dangerous “challenge” as a way to connect. And they get high off the thrill of it. Unlike the gaggles of films that have come before, possession is an electrifying experience in Talk to Me. It’s an addiction. It becomes the cure for social anxiety. The way these teens record the interactions with the spirits to be posted as “funny” Tiktok videos in order to wash away their boredom or feel as if they matter…talk about disturbing.
At the center of these unsettling themes is Mia, a sympathetic character endeared to us through a heartbreaking portrayal by Wilde rife with grief. There will be viewers who throw their hands up at the scrupulous choices made by these meddling teens, but part of the strength of Talk to Me comes from relatable performances amongst the cast that leave little room to question motivation. The sadness and confusion amongst the kids in this film hangs heavy in the air, extrapolated by wide shots that make them appear separated, even when surrounded by others. So, when the ghosts begin calling, it’s no wonder that they’re at least willing to listen.
For their first feature, the filmmakers establish an uncomfortably grim style that gnaws at the flesh. Talk to Me is a shocking blend of brutal violence and emotional trauma that does not hold back. While there are frightening ghosts with a wet and bloated appearance lingering all throughout—they look fantastic—the truly horrific moments are (thankfully) few and far between. When it swings, Talk to Me lands punches guaranteed to knock you out of your seat. I’ve had a day to recover and one moment in particular is still screaming in my mind. An eerie sound design, Cornel Wilczek’s sinister score and gloomy lighting all work to enhance the spine-tingling dread which creeps throughout the film. Rest assured, Talk to Me is terrifying.
Despite the unique setup and well-crafted horror, Talk to Me does unfortunately begin to stumble halfway through as it falls into all-too familiar territory and loses momentum. Tropes are tropes because they work, and that’s still the case here, but with such a tantalizing premise, it’s a disappointment to see the film fall back on tried and true conventions when there’s so much potential for further expansion of this world. What begins as something fresh and exciting becomes a more standard haunter hitting all of the basic beats.
Merging into expected territory or not, the Philippou’s deliver a ravenous possession film that left me shook. Eye-popping gore, effective scares and devastating performances all combine to overcome the film’s few deficiencies for a memorable haunter. Let Talk to Me in. You’ll be glad you did.
By Matt Konopka