The Plot: Mia (Sophie Wilde) is troubled and lacking empathy, leaving a dying kangaroo to suffer on the road after accidentally knocking it down. Her friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) is suspicious of her behaviour around her boyfriend Daniel (Otis Dhanji). As part of a dare, this group of friends get involved in a social media craze involving holding a severed embalmed hand and saying two phrases which will grant possession to the dead for 90 seconds. Being a daredevil, Mia tries it several times as each experience is different. However, with each attempt the spirits leak further into the real world…
The Verdict: Australian horror is well-established and respected in horror circles, moving from the crazy Ozsploitation era of the 1970s and 1980s into more recent efforts like the relentless Wolf Creek and genuine spookfest The Babadook. The latest offering from Down Under is a feature debut from the enthusiastic sibling team of Danny and Michael Philippou. They turned down the offer of making a Hollywood superhero film to work on Talk To Me instead and one can sense that their instincts were correct. They might have been swallowed up and then spat out by the Hollywood machine. Maybe later. For now, Talk To Me is a calling card for their talents as observant co-directors on how to make a genre film tick over and work itself into an entertaining, old-school frenzy of everyday possession and murder. Juicy.
The concept of Talk To Me is simple but effective enough. An embalmed hand reportedly belonging to a psychic grants an audience with the dead in short, intense blasts of full-body possession. It goes around various young people at house parties like a dare, particularly affecting Mia who has a family secret waiting to come to the surface. The Philippous treat these sequences like a first-person and then third-person perspective, with the characters oblivious to the consequences (of which there are many). They don’t try to be smart and self-aware about this (the in-thing to do), with the characters apparently not having seen a horror film before. Messing with the dead messes with the mind too, to the point where the edges of reality and unreality blur as Mia experiences frightening visions. Well, they’re supposed to be frightening. Despite the eerie premise, Talk To Me is not a particularly scary film. The amount of pink in Barbie is scarier. It’s fairly light on actual scares and tends to signpost them in order to underplay them for dramatic effect.
The sense here is that the Philippous are more interested in creating an atmos of fear and showing the impact of poor decision-making on the lives of a group of friends. It’s a more sophisticated tack than one might expect, amping up the tragic, real-world consequences while keeping the nervy characters on edge throughout. It’s an admirable, lower-key approach, but one also wishes that the film would be a bit more visceral and impactful to sell just how dangerous and unpredictable this game of talking to the hand is. There’s enough evidence here to suggest that the Philippous have made a promising start to their film careers, with the potential for something better to come. While it’s not quite a little ripper, Talk To Me is still worth seeking out if you need a break from the record-breaking Barbenheimer madness engulfing cinemas at the moment.
Rating: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Talk To Me
Worth seeking out
Talk To Me (Australia / 16 / 95 mins)
In short: Worth seeking out
Directed by Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou.
Starring Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Otis Dhanji, Joe Bird, Miranda Otto.