A few times a year, it happens. A film that raises expectations in every horror fan is coming, mainly thanks to all the buzz it creates. Sometimes the critics fly over it. On others, the audience gets excited; in rare cases, the positive reactions are from all directions. At the same time, we find reports of spectators fainting in the audience, vomiting, shouting until their voices die out, shaking their body, opening their eyes to death, developing a chronic illness, or simply unable to stand the horrors so that they leave the theatre in a panic (in practice, it is very likely that a large part of them just went for a short visit to the bathroom).
In the case of the Australian horror film “Talk To Me,” at least some of these reports have been around for a few months. The film received rave reviews, including a rating of 95% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes so far. Some have called it the best horror film of 2023, one of the finest Australian horror films ever made, and one that could very well become a cult film.
So, of course, we went to the premiere to watch it, not knowing what to expect, and discovered that the film deserves the positive buzz surrounding it, at least for the most part. All the details in this “Talk To Me” review.
From YouTube To The Big Screen, The Extreme Way
“Talk To Me” was produced with a pretty minimal budget of about 4.5 million dollars. It was purchased for distribution by A24, whose resume includes some talked about and excellent horror films of recent years: “Hereditary,” “Midsommar,” “The Witch” and more. What is equally important in this case is that the American distribution company is also known as a home for young filmmakers at the beginning of their journey on the big screen. Yes, just like the brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, the directors, who came from entirely different place.
The Philippou twins started making movies at a very young age. While their friends were busy doing silly things, they did them also but made sure to film them. They participated in impromptu wrestling matches and filmed themselves in situations from the “Jackass” realms, such as flooding a house or jumping on furniture. Later they started producing parodies of movies and series, with special effects and other surprises. They created a YouTube channel called “RackaRacka.” Even before they saw any money from the channel, they funded him creatively, such as participating in medical trials. This Youtube channel has had several successes, such as a parody video called “Harry Potter vs. Star Wars.” which received about 7 million views in the first week. Nine years later, his number of views is about 34 million.
Although viral YouTube videos are often of problematic quality, it was possible to see that these companies know what they are doing at the level of directing, editing, and even special effects. Later the brothers opened a new YouTube channel and several other extreme videos, such as the one in which Michael filmed himself driving a car almost filled with water, except for a small hole for breathing. This video left a small hole in his pocket due to the fine he paid the South African police, but money is not everything. The problem is that the road between the small window of YouTube and the cinema’s big screen is quite long, and a few creators managed to make this journey. The case of the Philippou brothers is the exception that proves the rule. It is likely that they also did not dream that a few years later, they would be responsible for a horror film that was screened at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and received wall-to-wall superlatives.
The Main Rule: You Have To Break The Rules
“Talk To Me” is a film that centers around a mummified hand covered in ceramics, which probably once belonged to some medium, someone who communicates about the dead, a person from a Satanic cult – and you can see it negatively – does not show us much of the background story. We get a hand; the one who holds it can communicate with the dead, like a séance. But there are also some laws; it is unclear who made them, how he figured them out, and above all, how many people had to die for us to learn the rules the hard way.
As it appears in the secret operating instructions, it turns out that all you have to do is hold it in your hand, light a candle, and say the words “talk to me” and then “I let you in.” All this will make it possible to see the dead, communicate with them, and, most importantly, produce viral videos. Later, you must extinguish the candle after no more than 90 seconds. Otherwise, the dead will remain in the body and cause the blood that connects to do terrible things to itself and others. I don’t have a problem with movies that present rules from their inner world that you have to accept, as long as the characters follow the rules and break them at some point, even though some people prefer to get more answers. And that’s perfectly fine.
Our protagonist is Mia (Sophie Wilde), a girl who suffered a tragedy when her mother committed suicide, or so she thinks. Mia is looking for answers from her father, but mainly sympathy and a warm human attitude, which we can tell from the film’s title. She connects with the family of Jade, her best friend, but is also cold and beachy at times (Alexandra Jensen). She adopts Riley (Joe Bird), Jade’s little brother, and with his help, puts together the family she will probably never have. One evening, when the extended gang gathers to produce viral videos, Mia – seeking any attention – volunteers to communicate with the spirits. The first meeting with the ghosts is traumatic, but the heroine sees his positive sides and wants more and more. Maybe because of the sensational experience, maybe because that’s how she feels “part of the gang.”
Then we get more and more encounters like this, with some scares, including a primarily entertaining sequence. One moment, when the rules were broken, the terror began. Mia, wanting answers from who she thinks is her mother’s spirit, keeps one of the characters in her “séance” a little too long. We get one of the film’s most effective and creepy scenes, which includes snoring, banging one’s head against the wall, and trying to take his eyes off, as he was Justin Long’s character. Beyond the shock of this scene, it will set in motion a cycle of pain, guilt, and trying to make things right.
Here’s “Talk To Me” trailer, to get you in the right mood:
The Hand Goes Viral
Undoubtedly, the Philippou brothers wanted to say something about the world we live in. The script, written by Danny Philippou, Bill Hinzman, and Daley Pearson, deals with many relevant issues. There is a reference here, even a critical one, to our viral culture that the film grew out of to some extent. You can’t miss the social criticism when a group of young people witness horrific acts, including physical harm to some of them, but are mainly interested in the level of photography (“Did you catch this?”) and the distribution potential of the video (“Did you send it?”). The group shows everything but social sensitivity, and this is evident in the scene where one of the characters goes into a trance at the climax of which she sensually kisses a rather ugly dog, which will, of course, become a video that will be sent to everyone even before the dog stops wagging its tail.
In general, the characters here don’t behave rationally or logically at times, but this is a plague of most horror movies you’ll find today. Some will say that just like there are no goals in football without mistakes, it is difficult for horror to show presence in a perfect world where the characters are error-free.
In an interview, the brothers said they got their inspiration from neighbors, one of whom had an extreme reaction to drugs while his friends were rolling with laughter and filming it. The film treats this critically and creates a close connection between other addictions of the youth, resulting in “Z Generation” – a generation that is primarily obsessed and cheap thrills: the encounters with the ghosts can remind you of trance, which, as you know, there are other and not entirely legal ways to achieve it. The creators stated that they wanted to combine the idea with another obsession of the current generation, which is for serial killers, as prominent in the Netflix realm, for example.
In this respect, their choice of a murderous element in the form of a hand is anything but accidental, in my opinion. When human communication often boils down to the emoji of a hand raising a toe, that “Like” becomes a currency of the younger generation, and we perform almost every action with our hands (I mean actions like tapping on a remote control or using the phone, not what you think. What’s wrong with you?), it’s hard to think of a more appropriate object to describe our obsessions. In between, there are also more complex issues about guilt, human relationships, trauma, and euthanasia. The film deals with global problems but does not forget its context and Australian roots, which comes, for example, in a particular meeting with a kangaroo that hints at what will happen later and is probably also a metaphor for all kinds of things.
Maximun Topics, Minumus Depth
The main problem is that unlike some of the acclaimed films we have mentioned here, such as Ari Aster’s works (“Hereditary,” “Midsommar”), “Talk To Me” does not go deep. You will find more points for thought than philosophical answers here, and it’s easy to ignore these subjects. Unlike films that emphasize their depth in almost every possible way (this is a criticism I have of the over-efforts of Ari Aster), “Talk To Me” combines the themes in a rather superficial but natural way.
Mainly, it is engaging throughout and even sometimes disturbing in parts of it.
There is a combination of a creepy atmosphere, an easy-to-follow story, some effective scares (don’t expect “cheap” jumpsares here), and humor. Miranda Otto, who plays the mother of the two young brothers here, is the only name you will probably recognize in the unknown cast of the film. Who is known mainly for the character of Eawin in the “Lord of the Rings” films, and also appeared in several horror films such as “Annabelle: Creation,” “The Silence” and the terrible “I Frankenstein,” is responsible for a large part of the comedic moments of the film, thanks to some dialogues that are more reminiscent of the parents than “American Pie.”
Talk To Me: More Than A Horror Movie (For Better Or For Worse)
By and large, “Talk To Me” is made imposingly. The creators create some compelling scenes, the cinematography is excellent, the soundtrack includes some fantastic choices, and most of the actors, however unknown, do the job convincingly. As is the best tradition, and what may be due to the background of the creators, some scenes take part in other extreme areas, such as a combination between a youth comedy and a horror movie: that moment when one of the ghosts sucks the toe of one of the characters seems like an excellent potential for a YouTube or TikTok video, for example.
Overall, this connection between the disturbing atmosphere and the moments of humor, which seem like a parody, only sometimes works smoothly. From my impression, mixing the genres reduces the shock or the atmosphere of tension that we are supposed to feel, because it is not always easy for the viewer to transfer between different sensations so quickly. At the screening I attended, the audience’s reactions to the film ranged from shouting, laughing, and expressions of disgust, sometimes even in the same scene. But in the reviews I encountered upon leaving the theatre, on social media, and among the professional “Talk To Me” reviews, some said they did not have enough horror here.
Should You Watch Talk To Me?
In the bottom line, “Talk To Me” justifies, in my eyes, most of the superlatives it got. Even if it’s not a perfect, deep film or one that shows us something we’ve never seen before, and even if some viewers will have a little trouble connecting with it, it shows that without an inflated budget or big names, you can make beautiful films – as long as the creators show creativity and talent.
Although it may be too early, I bet “Talk To Me” will appear in many lists of the “best horror films of 2023”, and it may very well be one we will also make on this site. At a time when a large part of the films that are successful or even make their way to the cinema screens are remakes, sequels, reboots, and other attempts to reproduce successful formulas, we should be grateful for every effort to screen a horror film of this type on the big screen, even if it comes from faraway Australia and was made by Young brothers who became famous n YouTube.