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Home > Talk to Me (2023): A Review

Talk to Me (2023): A Review

Talk to Me

Talk to Me: a simple yet clever horror film

Danny and Michael Philippou’s horror debut Talk to Me is being lauded as one of the best horror releases of the year. The Australian film follows a set of teenagers as they communicate with spirits via a ceramic-encased hand. By uttering the simple phrase “talk to me” while holding the embalmed hand, the ghastly figures appear before them – and by speaking the words, “I let you in,” the teens become briefly possessed by the spirits to the amusement of those around them. The only catch – once the ghosts get used to the world around them, they refuse to let go.

The film made its world premiere at 2023’s Sundance film festival to critical success. Distributed by A24, the film has seen overwhelming momentum since its world premiere. Talk to Me is the second-highest first-week box office for A24 at $10 million – beaten only by horror savant and filmmaker Ari Aster with his  2018 release Hereditary. With this success, it’s evident to say that Talk to Me is shaping up to be an all-timer horror release.

A Horrifying Party Game

On the anniversary of her mother’s apparent suicide, Mia (Sophia Wilde) shuts herself off from her Father, waning towards the comfort of her best friend, Jade (Alexandra Jensen), and her family. Mia’s struggle to accept her mother, Rhea’s death gives the film an emotional beat and lends a sense of tragedy to what would otherwise be a very simple plot.

While giving a ride to Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird), Mia comes across a wounded kangaroo on the road. To the discontent of Riley, Mia chooses not to put the crying creature out of its misery. This scene captures the macabre imagery that would become a staple of the film – as all of the spirits seen during the runtime bear the likeness of themselves when they met their untimely end. Additionally, the scene encapsulates Mia’s nuance – her struggle to understand death, whether it relates to those close to her or not. Throughout the film’s opening, there are glimpses of Snapchat stories showing teenagers while they are possessed by the deceased people they meet through the embalmed hand. Mia, Jade, and Jade’s boyfriend: Daniel (Otis Dhanji) attend one of these parties to experience it for themselves, quickly becoming enamored. This mirrors the influence of teenage peer pressure – as the embalmed hand becomes a stand-in for other vices such as drugs. The hand has a simple guideline: do not pass the 90-second time limit, or else the phantom will wish to stay. Mia slightly passes the recommended limit in her first use but is seemingly unaffected.

Talk to Me takes a standard teen horror premise and grafts mature and grief-filled moments onto its plot. As the cast continues to use the hand to become a proxy for the spirits, Riley eventually takes a turn and channels Mia’s mother. As Mia’s selfishness lets Riley continue his turn of being possessed for longer than the exceeded time to prolong her conversation with her mother, Riley’s body is subject to visceral acts of self-harm by vengeful spirits who take control from Rhea – making the scene feel like a punch in the gut for the viewer. Mia’s attempt to attain closure unleashes a force of hellish and brutal acts that directly harm the family she has become attached to. The film takes a somber tone for the duration of the runtime as they attempt to exile the spirit that has taken hold of Riley. Meanwhile, Mia begins seeing visions of the deceased separate from the hand’s influence.

Talk to Me

Traumatic Characterization

The filmmakers and Wilde accomplish the craft of a sympathetic character, as her reluctance to connect with her Father drives her reliance to be accepted and welcomed by others. Other characters like Hayley (Zoe Terakes) cast a negative opinion of Mia early on, but as Mia continues using the mummified hand and hosting spirits, they find common ground in this attraction. After being possessed over the recommended amount of time, Mia becomes an unknowing surrogate for the spirits – and a danger to herself and those around her. The negative opinion of her peers fulfills itself when Mia forces Riley to stay connected to the hand and sets off the chain of events of the film’s third act. Mia’s unique position allows her to communicate with spirits, including Rhea – or “Rhea,” as the film never confirms or denies whether this spirit is truly Mia’s mother or another apparition posing as her. While Jade and the others hear from previous hand users that the demons can be waited out, Mia is goaded by her maternal figure to kill Riley to save him.

Talk to Me is mainly about Mia’s inability to understand death and the suffering she leaves to others because of it. Jade’s family, having taken her in, are unfortunately subject to the brunt of this pain, with Riley hospitalized due to Mia’s wish to talk to Rhea. Riley is the one character that Mia connects with the most, which elevates the disturbing nature of the violent path Mia is being coerced to follow. All other characters act in reaction to Mia and her spiral into grief. Sophia Wilde gave a devastating performance as Mia, with the rest of the cast doing a solid job of responding to her character. Joe Bird, as Riley in particular, had a noted connection to Wilde’s character, giving the film a sense of urgency that distinguished it from other genres. Other characterizations prove a little half-baked, however – as Mia’s relationship with others, such as Daniel and Hayley, seems to fall flat due to the writing leaving their arcs behind in the third act in favor of Mia and Riley.

A Technically Sound Social Media Horror

The sets, props, and costumes for the film were all believable for a modern teen horror film. There were also some noted pop-culture elements, such as Riley watching The Sidemen YouTube channel or Jade having a crazy frog ringtone. A scene in particular that represents the setting had Mia looking through Snapchat memories for photos and videos of her late Mother. The app acts as an evolution of physical photo collections such as scrapbooks while maintaining the emotional weight of seeing deceased loved ones. On the same note, however, audiences may wince at these inclusions and some of the dialogue. The writers threw some internet lingo (such as the insult “tryhard” in which someone is trying too hard at something) in the film, which may harm the script as it ages. Horror films with tastes of modern luxuries, such as social media, can often come across as cringe-worthy. However, it should be noted that the usage of these words and elements is reasonable enough for the age group the film hopes to portray, detracting little to nothing from the film.

Technically this film is a masterful piece of work – as the cinematography, editing, and sound do everything to evoke the feeling of dread without relying on the cheap tactics that contemporary horror films do. In particular, the possession scenes use a stark camera angle change which affixes the character’s head to the center of the frame. The apparitions are not shown until the character reacts to them as well, leading the audience to lean in curiously toward what our characters are seeing. 

The Line Between Emotion and Scares

Arguably, the film does very little new – but for the most part, it accomplishes its task of being a technically sound and interesting horror film. The Phillipou brothers, in an interview with Deadline, have since stated the original draft of the film was “more cutthroat” but that they aimed to find a line between violent and emotional. Despite a few points off in the writing and character department, Talk to Me accomplishes that excellently – and the ending for this film is sure to leave audiences stunned.

For its stunning visuals, believable characters, and tragic plot – Talk to Me is a must-watch for horror fans this summer. For those looking for a visceral but clever display of shocking possessions – Talk to Me can be seen in theaters now.

Talk to Me

Talk to Me (2023) Official A24 Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Thomas Cooper is a writer for Dead Talk News based in San Antonio, Texas. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Communications with a concentration in Digital Media from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Aside from film, Thomas also loves to talk about vinyl record collecting and custom PC builds.