Talk To Me Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Danny and Michael Philippou
Stars: Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Miranda Otto, Marcus Johnson, Otis Dhanji, Zoe Terakes, Chris Alosio.
A superior and effective Australian produced horror film, Talk To Me taps into the genre of many American-made horror films in which a group of teens play around with the supernatural and face some nasty consequences (a trope of films like Ouija, etc) but gives the familiar tropes a freshness.
At a party one evening in a small South Australian town a group of teens play games with an object that leads to dangerous consequences. In this case the teens play with a creepy embalmed hand. According to the urban legend attached to the hand you hold it for no more than 90 seconds, speak the words “Talk to me” and you are given a brief shock to the system and conjure up a spirit from another dimension.
One of the central characters here is Mia (Sophie Wilde, from tv series You Don’t Know Me, etc), who is still troubled by the suicide of her mother two years earlier. Rather than spend time with her father Max (Marcus Johnson), who seems to have become withdrawn, she prefers to hang around the home of her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and her younger brother Riley (newcomer Joe Bird), and their no-nonsense mother Sue (Miranda Otto), who is suspicious of Mia’s risky and at times erratic behaviour.
At a party one night Mia is given a chance to touch the hand and she briefly connects to the spirit of her recently dead mother who committed suicide. Mia becomes obsessed with the hand and its power and tries a couple more times to reconnect with her mother, holding the hand longer than the suggested 90 seconds. But then, despite the protestations and warnings of Jade, she also lets the impressionable and vulnerable young Riley have a shot with the hand which has violent consequences. Mia has unleashed some sort of demonic presence that possesses her and wreaks havoc with her circle of friends.
This psychological horror film is the debut feature for Australian filmmaking siblings Danny and Michael Philippou, better known as Rackaracka to their legion of You Tube fans, and it has been financed by well-regarded indie distribution company A24. The Philippous cut their teeth in the horror genre with their energetic YouTube videos and they also worked as part of the crew on Jennifer Kent’s spooky film The Babadook. Here they manage to avoid many of the cliches of this genre while delivering plenty of visceral shocks and some effective jump scares and genuinely unnerving moments. They prefer to use practical effects rather than an overreliance on CGI, and also use make up effectively to create some quite grisly imagery. The script, written by Danny Philippou with regular Rackaracka collaborator Bill Hinzman and based on a short story from Daley Pearson (Bluey, etc), tackles some universal themes of guilt, grief, family, teenage angst, and addiction that resonate strongly.
The atmospheric cinematography from Aaron McLisky (the tv series Mr Inbetween, etc) creates a grim mood and he nicely establishes the suburban setting. The gloomy lighting at times gives the material a sense of foreboding and a gritty quality. Cornel Wilczek’s score is atmospheric and ominoius. However, the ending didn’t quite work for me and was a bit of a disappointment.
Most of the cast are unknown, with the exception of Otto who brings gravitas to her role as the stern mother of Jade. Making her feature film debut here Wilde delivers a strong physical performance as the self-destructive Mia, and she gives the film a strong central focus. As the more sensitive Riley, who suffers the brunt of the supernatural force, Bird delivers a solid performance.
Talk To Me is an assured debut and announces the arrival of a couple of filmmakers to watch with interest.