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Talk To Me

TALK TO ME is a new Australian horror movie that’s distributed by A24 in the United States, but it’s a more straight forward type of horror than what people generally associate with that company. Young people dealing with ghosty shit, closer to mainstream James Wan or Scott Derrickson type thrills than to an Ari Aster or Robert Eggers joint. It went over well at Sundance and some other film festivals and has been hyped up by some as the horror movie of the year, or a bold new voice or some shit, and to me that’s overselling it. It’s something more humble – a solid movie with a good cast and some fun ideas – and really that’s one of the things we’re looking for as horror fans.

Mia (Sophie Wilde) is a young woman trying to distract herself from the second anniversary of her mother’s death and the fact that she doesn’t like being around her dad (Marcus Johnson, INTERCEPTOR). She goes to stay with her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), who has a little brother Riley (Joe Bird, RABBIT) and mother Sue (Miranda Otto, I, FRANKENSTEIN) who she’s also close with. Mia drags Jade and Jade’s straight-laced boyfriend Daniel (Otis Dhanji, “Young Arthur [Thirteen Years Old]” in AQUAMAN) to a party with some friends who have been spreading scary videos of a sort of seance they like to do. Jade thinks the whole thing is stupid, but Mia thinks it will be fun to be there and “see if it’s real.”

Things start out awkward. One of the party’s hosts, Hayley (Zoe Terakes), hates Mia and is annoyed she was invited. There’s also some weirdness because she used to date Daniel, some people seem to think she still has a thing for him, and that doesn’t seem to be entirely wrong. But Mia impresses the hosts by being the first to volunteer for their little party game. Joss (Chris Alosio) brings out the ceramic hand, which he says is the embalmed hand of a psychic medium. Mia has to hold the hand and say the titular phrase. To her surprise she immediately sees a scary apparition, and freaks out. But she gets up the guts to do it again and say, “I let you in.”

What follows is clearly not a case of playing along. She writhes and twitches and her eyes turn black as an unknown dead person talks through her. But don’t worry, she’ll be safe. Hayley has a rule of blowing out the candle and yanking the hand away after 90 seconds. Otherwise the spirit can get ahold of the person forever.

Two things: the witnesses have very believable reactions to all this. Jade is at first annoyed, thinking Mia is putting on a show, then gets increasingly upset as she’s not so sure. Riley looks amused when he thinks it’s fake and then terrified when he thinks it’s not. The others have seen it before and are more entertained than scared, almost is if they’re watching a horror movie, like us.

Mia, once she’s caught her breath, says it was great. What a rush!

That’s the clever twist to this possession movie: though this activity scares them, they do it over and over, and they love it. Kinda like my favorite part in POLTERGEIST where they find the spot in the kitchen that makes them slide across the floor, so they keep doing it and laughing. Here there’s an obvious drug parallel in the way they sneak out to have parties, take turns, laugh, feel a rush, have a good time together. The ritual actually most resembles shooting up – the lighting of the candle, the tightening of the belt (that holds them to the chair). I don’t think it’s really intended as a cautionary tale, but of course it stops being so fun after Mia does too much of it, and after she lets Riley try it even though everyone knows he’s too young.

There are more freaky seances, the supernatural goings on eventually intersect with the story of Mia’s mother’s death, things go too far and she starts seeing things when she’s not using the hand, etc. There seems to be some EVIL DEAD influence in the way the possessed behave, but not in a plagiaristic sort of way. The possessions also cause a couple memorably nasty grossout moments that you could compare to DRAG ME TO HELL because of their reliance on slobber, but the tone is very different. They’re a fun jolt because they’re so viscerally disgusting, but they’re not (to me at least) a laugh. They’re more sad, because they’re about an evil force causing embarrassment and degradation for one of the main characters.

Another EVIL DEAD similarity is definitely a coincidence: like EVIL DEAD RISE it has a character played by a trans actor without it being a plot point or mentioned by anyone. In my review of EVIL DEAD RISE I followed the movie’s lead and didn’t make a thing out of it, but I thought it was nice. Here I’m mentioning it because although that character made some poor choices I think TALK TO ME might be the historic first mainstream movie with a trans actor playing kind of a douche. Hayley is a good character because he/they are instantly hateable but then I sort of warmed up to him/them. That’s a pretty tried and true horror character type, come to think of it.

This is not the movie for people who want horror heroines to always make the best decisions. Mia is quite proficient at being a fuck up. At the same point when the ghost shit starts hitting the haunted fan she also gives her adoptive family a very good reason to hate her fuckin guts, and the discomfort of her facing them and trying to apologize is actually more gut wrenching than any of the malevolent spirits she’s dealing with. And this is a point where it’s a real asset to have Otto (who’s very funny in her earlier scenes, by the way) playing the mom.

It’s a concise 95 minute story but still feels like it gives you some time to hang out with the characters before quite figuring out where you’re going. Where it ends up eventually seems inevitable, but not in a bad way. It’s a cool ending.

I’d be interested to hear from Australians if they think there’s anything specific to Australian culture in this one that the rest of us might not pick up on. So many of the Australian horror movies that make it my way are interested in nature – WOLF CREEK 1 and 2, RAZORBACK, ROGUE, LONG WEEKEND (and its remake), STORM WARNING, DARK AGE. The car oriented ones like ROAD GAMES or WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD and WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE aren’t in the outback or anything but they’re in dusty or rural kinda areas. It’s kinda novel to see an Australian horror movie set in the suburbs of Adelaide, which I could’ve mistaken for America if not for the accents.

Although come to think of it there is a kangaroo in one part. No joke. And also come to think of it I don’t remember THE BABADOOK or CUT or THE LOVED ONES being very outbacky. But at least I got to list a bunch of Australian horror movies and provide links to my reviews. Let me know if you have any recommendations.

I’m hesitant to mention this because it might’ve scared me off from watching it if I had read this, but first time directors Danny & Michael Philippou (who are twin brothers) already have a Wikipedia page under the name “RackaRacka,” which is apparently a Youtube channel they’ve run since 2013 that has 6.75 million subscribers. “The channel’s first huge success was Harry Potter vs Star Wars, which attracted 7 million views in a week, and won them a trip to the U.S.” They started making videos when they were kids because they were backyard wrestlers. But they were also crew members on THE BABADOOK, so they have some real-movie experience. I would not have guessed they were Youtubers based on the movie. If anything, social media videos are depicted as silly kids stuff within the world of the movie.

The script is by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman (most likely not the same Bill Hinzman who played the first zombie in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is my guess), from a concept by Daley Pearson (a producer of my wife’s favorite cartoon to fall asleep to, Bluey). They’re already developing a sequel, which I kinda hope will follow the ‘80s model of a totally new set of characters. I’m not saying that’s the best way to do it but I feel like we don’t get enough of that these days.

TALK TO ME’s “getting possessed by evil spirts can be fun in moderation” hook is a good one. I don’t agree with the people who sold it as something thrillingly new, but I don’t need that. I think the movie is most successful in the time honored horror tradition of depicting a group of charismatic and funny young people who may not be the finest humanity has to offer, but they have strong friendships, almost family-like, that can waiver but are crucial during this time of torment. I like spending this time with them and pulling for them to work things out even though, let’s face it, some or all of them are fucked. That’s the ritual, just like getting out the hand and lighting the candle and saying the thing. It’s fun if you don’t do it for too long.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2023 at 11:18 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “Talk To Me”

  1. I hope System Of A Down considered suing someone over that poster.

  2. This sounds very much like my kind of thing, more so now that I’ve read this review than it seemed from the hype.

    I do want to recommend an Australian genre film, though it’s not horror: 1988’s “Spirits of The Air, Gremlins of The Clouds”. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen recently.

    Also while I’m here, “the ghost shit starts hitting the haunted fan” got an out-loud laugh out of me. Good stuff.


    I very much enjoyed this one — even more than Vern, I think, based on this review.

    In the same way that the film prominently features a trans actor/character in a subtle, organic, non-hamfisted way, the film’s treatment of Australia seems restrained, and I liked that. It’s definitely there and noticeable, but it’s integrated vs. cliched or corny. I know next to nothing about Australia, but it worked for me. In general, aside from some cringe-inducing violence (I confess, I looked away, I don’t like squirm/HOSTEL violence, I like Freddy/Jason cartoon violence), it’s a pretty subdued, psychological horror drama type of affair. Not as self-consciously arty as an Aster joint, but definitely more emo than dude-bro, I felt.

    For me, the most powerful themes were the idea for connection and the idea of deception and discernment. Mia in particular, but really everyone here, is looking for connection — to a lost loved one, a family, a boyfriend or pined-after love interest, a peer squad or click (being cool and welcomed at the party vs. “who invited you?” energy). The desire for love and connection and acceptance and the potential to be deceived or have this desire used against you (by deceptive demonic forces, in this case) is the real through line with Mia. In matters of the heart, we tend to see what we want to see or accept things at face value, but things aren’t always what they seem to be or what we’d like to be.

    Filmatically, this one had kind of a hypnotic, dreamlike, or sleep deprivationy feel to me — the flow of time and events seemed … weird. Mostly linear and not choppy but just kind of bendy and slippery. The grief element that we learn about from early on seems to hang over and pervade the whole film — there’s a kind of post-traumatic depressive and somber energy (this is particularly evident when a party montage (or a violent burst) punctuates the otherwise lugubrious feel of the film — the contrast underscores how quiet and languid the rest of the film is). I also found the hellish vision scenes to be, well, hellish … but in a psychologically oppressive and filthy way — sadistic, bad-horny, disturbing but in a (wait for it) restrained) way that kind of works on you.

    Yup, it’s a keeper!

  4. That’s my cue to recommend NEXT OF KIN (1982).

  5. “But at least I got to list a bunch of Australian horror movies and provide links to my reviews. Let me know if you have any recommendations.”

    Have you seen WAKE IN FRIGHT? If not…duuuuude.

  6. WAKE IN FRIGHT made me terrified of Australian men. Sure, Hugh Jackman and Chris Hemsworth seem like swell dudes, but throw ‘em in the Outback for two weeks, give them an endless supply of beer and a couple roo-hunting rifles and see what you get.

    On that note, I’ll recommend INNOCENT PREY, a 1984 De Palma-esque slasher thriller type thing inexplicably starring PJ Soles that never stops getting weirder.

  7. Been waiting with baited breath for you to tell us if this is what the hype cycle was trying to sell it as, Vern. Glad to hear it’s good, though!

    I’ll third Wake in Fright. Australian Deliverance with probably the best gambling scene in cinema. It’s one of the movies I’m always sure to show new people in our watch group.

  8. It’s been more than a decade but I have seen and written about WAKE IN FRIGHT:


    I still haven’t seen NEXT OF KIN though, despite a friend often recommending it. Maybe soon.

  9. The first I heard about this was an interview with the directors on the a Corridor Crew YouTube video – they were almost unbearably energetic- like an annoying younger brother who has eaten a whole bag of haribo. So I was pleasantly surprised to read all of the reviews which suggest a reasonably thoughtful (but still very much of its genre) film. Will have to check this one out.
    Also Vern, I hope you’re watching some of Bluey too, it’s absolutely brilliant.

  10. FlyingGuillotine

    August 25th, 2023 at 8:45 am

    Allow me to second NEXT OF KIN. I just watched it a couple of days ago. Kinda of a slow burn for most of the run time, but we get a lot of excellent camera work and moodiness and idiosyncratic characters.

  11. I was at a social gathering in Melbourne a week ago where most of the guests were local stage or TV or screen actors, plus some friends (all local so no one you’ve heard of). TALK TO ME came up and despite a few of the attendees hating horror, word was very positive. The thing some of the guests pointed out to me (and even though I’m an Aussie, I wouldn’t have immediately noticed this), the very diverse cast (including the lead) is just a reflection of the type of community the two young filmmakers grew up around in Adelaide. They weren’t picked to fill a quota for diversity points but just accurately reflect the young Adelaide folk that the two directors grew up with. This got a big smile from the folks at the party.

    Some of the post production folk gave a talk this past month in Melbourne. Apparently the original composer dropped out right at the last moment, mid sound mixing, with the score only half completed, so they had to get a new composer and tell them, ‘we’ve done most of the mixing already so you’ll need to compose new tracks for us that fit the bits that the last composer had done’, so if the score dropped out a bit or went quiet with the old composer, the new one had to match it.

    Despite being a big horror nerd I can’t think of any local horror titles that demand to be brought to your awareness, as you already know about the main ones, but if any come to me I’ll mention them next time.

  12. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    September 5th, 2023 at 9:37 pm

    Not Australian here, but there’s one streaming on Criterion I think you might enjoy: THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS. Folks in this hick town cause traffic accidents to strip the cars and perform medical experiments on the survivors. It’s the directorial debut of Peter Weir, and his follow-up was PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. That’s one hell of an introductory curveball.

  13. THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS has the same dread of getting trapped in Australian bush towns that WAKE IN FRIGHT has; it must be a real worry for Australians. Meanwhile, PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK feels like the great granddaddy of the fright-light horrors that A24 get criticised for producing now. But if we’re promoting Peter Weir’s Australian horror movies, we shouldn’t forget THE LAST WAVE (AKA BLACK RAIN), which has Richard Chamberlain stumbling through sewers, and the late, great David Gulpilil as a character called Chris Lee through whom Chamberlain’s character is psychically linked to visions of the end of the world.

  14. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood, but I found THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS basically unwatchable. You’d think a movie with that premise would be at least somewhat outrageous but the whole thing felt like one long town council meeting. The ratio of spiny car action to doughy dudes in brown blazers arguing with each other is way off.

  15. ^ both of them have equal chance of absolutely fucking your life up.

    Another “nice one m8” vote for ghost shit / haunted fan here.

  16. I second the recommendation for THE LAST WAVE! It’s one of the most Lovecraftian films I’ve ever seen (moreso even than plenty of films that were direct Lovecraft adaptations).

  17. Loved this one. It splits the difference between A24 depressing as hell horror and James Wan – style “ride” horror nicely, I thought (I like both approaches).

    Miranda Otto is indeed ridiculously funny in this. And I loved the comparison between the ‘fun’ part of having poltergeists; I just went to the obvious comparison of the Ouija board being a party favour, arguably even during victorian times.

    A few stray thoughts – Skani, love your take on the movie being about connections and the search for them. The movie emphasizes how the characters close themselves off at several points in different ways, hurting others when they most need them.
    Mia constantly brings up that she held hands with her ex. Har har.
    Also liked the motif with mirrors; Mia’s recurring nightmare does get explicitly referenced eventually, but even before that she mostly sees ghosts as reflections.

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