Talk to Me (Australia, 2022)

July 28, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Talk to Me Poster

It’s in vogue to call some horror films “throwbacks,” but, at least in the case of Danny and Michael Philippou’s directorial debut, Talk to Me, it’s an accurate assessment. In recent years, the horror trend has been for “safer” movies – those that offer quick scares at the expense of the deeply-rooted sense of terror an unease that alienates sensitive viewers. Talk to Me recalls a time when the term “horror” was entirely appropriate. It is uncompromising, both in the way it travels a seemingly inevitable trajectory and relies on practical effects (rather than CGI) to present gruesome imagery. Talk to Me isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t for those who believe horror movies can easily be shaken off. And it isn’t for those who aren’t willing to pay attention and allow the film’s unsettling aesthetic to seep into one’s bones.

The film transpires in Adelaide, Australia, the filmmakers’ hometown. It opens with a prologue presented an unbroken tracking shot that invades a house party and features a bloody ending. It then shifts to the main plot, which features different characters than those highlighted in the first four minutes. The protagonist is Mia (Sophie Wilde), a young woman still trying to cope with the suicide of her mother – an event that happened two years ago. With her father having become distant and withdrawn, she has been “adopted” by the family of her best friend, Jade (Alexandra Jensen), and treats Jade’s younger brother, Riley (Joe Bird), as she might her own sibling. Jade’s mother, Sue (Miranda Otto), welcomes Mia into her home with unqualified affection.

The trouble starts at a party attended by Mia, Jade, and Riley. An embalmed hand is said to possess the ability to allow the living to converse with the dead and Mia, eager for contact with her mother, is willing to give it a try. The procedure involves lighting a candle, gripping the hand, and saying “Talk to me.” Mia’s attempt goes wrong (she violates the rules designed to make the contact “safe”), resulting in a horrific result not only for her but for those around her and she must then seek to understand what she has unleashed and how it might be possible – if it is possible – to undo the damage that has been done.

With a limited budget, the Philippous rely on “old-time” special effects rather than computerized graphics. This enhances the movie’s dark, nihilistic atmospherics, which represent the strongest element of the production. This no horror-comedy; it lands squarely on the serious side of the genre. From the suffering, dying kangaroo lying in the middle of the road to a brutal instance of shocking violence, Talk to Me doesn’t skimp on the hard-core elements of non-slasher horror.

Two members of the young cast deserve to be singled out, both of whom are making their feature film debuts. The first is Sophie Wilde, who singlehandedly sells the premise by presenting her character as desperate for some sense of closure about her mother and horrified by the things for which she unwittingly bears responsibility. The second is Joe Bird, whose depictions of a possessed child come as close as anyone to rivaling Linda Blair’s iconic performance in The Exorcist.

Although the bare bones of the story rely on familiar tropes from possession-type films, the filmmakers imprint their own stamp on things by including some interesting elements and keeping things grounded. The decision to blur “objective reality” with Mia’s perspective of events, which are often colored by visions manufactured by demonic entities, mandates attentive viewing. We’re never quite sure whether the apparition representing Mia’s mother, Rhea (Alexandria Steffensen), is a genuine spirit or a demon in disguise, and the Philippous don’t feel the need to talk down to us. That level of trust in the viewer is emblematic of Talk to Me, which offers a different brand of horror than what has become customary in multiplexes. If successful, it may usher in additional films from the director-brothers.

Talk to Me (Australia, 2022)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2023-07-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Dread, Profanity)
Genre: Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1