Whenever a new A24 horror film comes out, there are certain expectations. There will be scares, of course, but it will also be about something. Most scary movies are like that, of course, but the distributor really does lean into that aspect. Metaphors in their fright flicks are front and center. With Talk to Me, there’s a few different things going on here, not all of which are fully explored. At the same time, the unsettling nature of the story really does land. Is it terrifying? Not necessarily? Is it bleak and disturbing? It sure is.
Talk to Me is at its best as a calling card for young filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou. They’re crafting something bleak and stylish, but with an old school nature to it. It’s an interesting tightrope to walk, and while they’re not always completely successful, you always have the sense that you’re watching something you haven’t seen before. That counts for something, to say the least.
After a shocking opening sequence, we meet teenager Mia (Sophie Wilde). She’s dealing with the anniversary of having lost her mother to a possible suicide, putting her at a distance from her also grieving father Max (Marcus Johnson). Mia spends more time with her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), Jade’s little brother Riley (Joe Bird), and their mother Sue (Miranda Otto). It’s a surrogate family situation, one that’s about to be tested by a malevolent presence.
At a party with friends, including Mia’s ex and Jade’s current boyfriend Daniel (Otis Dhanji), they encounter something incredible. Hosts Joss (Chris Alosio) and Hayley (Zoe Terakes) have an embalmed hand in their possession that can contact the dead. You grip the hand, say “talk to me,” and spend 90 seconds or less being possessed. They’ve been using it as a party trick, posting videos for their classmates. When Mia volunteers to try it out, things don’t go as planned. When Riley begs to try it, things go even worse. Having let some dark forces in, both of them begin to experience something evil in their midst. To say more would spoil some very dark surprises.
The cast are asked to provide a lot of weight to what easily could have been silly. Sophie Wilde makes for a good scream queen, as well as being the only character really given much development. She’s the focus of the plot, though Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, and Alexandra Jensen are also prominent characters. They just aren’t given the extra attention that Wilde is. Chris Alosio, Marcus Johnson, and Zoe Terakes don’t leave much of an impression, while Miranda Otto has a few nice moments but mostly is wasted. Supporting players include Sarah Brokensha, Sunny Johnson, Ari McCarthy, and more.
Filmmakers (and twin brothers) Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou announce themselves as horror mavens to watch out for here. Co-directing, they penned the script with Daley Pearson, and both elements show a lot of promise. The scares are largely jump scares, but they’re very well done. So too is their direction, notably seen in the opening scene’s impressive tracking shot. The screenplay has some ambitions that they’re not yet up to, but it doesn’t lack for boldness. Within an old-fashioned possession and supernatural haunting tale, they find some new shades to work with.
Talk to Me has a lot on its mind aside from just elevated horrors. Does all of it work? No. Does enough of it work to warrant a recommendation? Absolutely. It’s very much an A24 work, so if you tend to like this sort of horror flick, that’s likely to be the case again here. It’s not an instant classic or in the upper echelon of the genre, but it’s a rock solid entry that knows how to capture bleakness in a cinematic manner.