Gemma Creagh looks at spooky first time feature, Talk to Me.
The rules of the game are simple. There’s a spooky ceramic hand with an actual embalmed hand inside and when you touch it, and say the words “talk to me” you see a dead person. If you utter the words “I let you in”, they take over your body – and this gets you high. But you can only hold the hand for 90 seconds… or else. Don’t forget you have to blow out a candle. Also if the ghost stays in your body, they start to fade. Plus no one knows what the hand is or where it came from, but somehow people know all this and pass it along. Also, some people may start to hallucinate sometimes. But besides all that, the rules are simple.
The film begins in suburban Australia with the classic horror prologue, a teenage house party is interrupted by a gruesome stabbing. Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Mia (Sophie Wilde) are best friends. Mia is constantly staying over in their home since her mother passed in mysterious circumstances. Still struggling to process this loss, Mia, along with Jade and Jade’s little brother Riley go to a house party, where the aforementioned hand is being passed around like a bong. Mia and Jade are skeptical at first, however, when Mia takes her turn and sees a bloated drowned corpse that possesses her body, she’s instantly addicted. Jade, Mia and Riley all get dragged into this dark supernatural possession until one of the spirits decides they don’t want to leave.
Directors Danny and Michael Philippou are two 30-year-old social media celebs with chaotic energy and 6.74 million YouTube followers. And admirably, they brought many of their creative collaborators and crew with them to this next stage in their careers. When you watch their unusual dynamic, certain elements or choices in the film just make more sense. These might be horror moments played straight or flippant comments about dog farts. The aesthetic, the camera moment, the violence… they are all stylish and vibrant, however, the writing and pacing are – for want of a better word – distinct. It’s neither fast nor slow; there are huge leaps in the narrative played out over montage, meanwhile, there’ll be inane back-and-forth sections of dialogue that takes up huge chunks of screen time.
The film isn’t without narrative issues. The theme of grief serves more as a plot device, driving Mia’s action rather than presenting any real exploration of loss. There’s a flippancy to the handling of sensitive topics such as self-harm and mental health. The metaphor of the ceramic appendage as an addictive substance drug is… heavy-handed. Ahem. It’s unfortunate, and presumably, not a conscious choice on the part of the creators, that all the young cast members of colour are the bad influence, pushing this demonic force on the “innocent” white family and pointedly Christian boyfriend. However, the young cast has a good on-screen chemistry and Sophie Wilde’s skill deepens her character’s unrelatable arc.
Despite some teething issues, Talk to Me remains an impressive, ambitious and accomplished first feature. There’s a uniqueness to the authorial voice, a lack of polish that’s honestly refreshing to watch. The silly humour and the earnest writing make this inherently watchable. It’s clear there’s an intense love of the genre through every frame of this film. I would be very, very interested to see what the Philippous do next with the inevitable massive budget they’ll get for their next film.
Talk to Me is in cinemas from 28th July 2023.