Talk To Me is a brisk watch offering a clever concept, true terror beyond the fleeting nature of a jump scare. Photo courtesy of A24

Film Review: Talk To Me

Film Reviews

Talk To Me
Directors: Danny and Michael Philippou

Bankside Films
In Theaters: 07.28

Arguably the most popular ghost stories in our Western/American culture are those we tell to entertain, exhilarate and terrify. To sit around and scare one another with a ghost is a classic pastime. In Talk To Me, directors Danny and Michael Philippou twist this concept into a new kind of terror for the social media generation.

In Talk To Me, high school student Mia (Sophie Wilde), her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) sneak out to a party to participate in  the latest apparent social media trend in their area. Supposedly, there’s a plaster hand that, when touched and spoken to, possesses you. Mia is curious, Jade is skeptical and young Riley guilts them into taking him. Two rascally teens, Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Joss (Chris Alosio), are currently in possession of the hand and take it around to people’s houses as a party trick—a twisted version of telling a scary story where the ghost has the floor. Mia volunteers, and after Joss ties her to the chair, Mia takes the hand in hers and says “Talk to me.” That’s when we see our first ghost: a waterlogged woman with cracking skin and bulging eyeballs. To prove the reality of the game, Mia lets the ghost possess her, and Wilde is bone chilling as she portrays someone possessed by the spirit of a long-dead woman with a lot to say. In the excitement, they let the ghost stay in Mia longer than the recommended 90 seconds, and from there, things go south for the grief-riddled teen.

To be possessed by a spirit is a high that these teens can’t shake, not even Mia. Another possession party full of even more ghosts brings light embarrassment to some friends, an intense sequence of brutal gore and a reconnection with the spirit of Mia’s dead mother. As Mia’s sanity continues to falter from further hauntings, Talk To Me blurs the line between truth and deception. The film grips you by the wrist and pulls you along with Mia deeper and deeper, punching you in the stomach with each twist of the arm. You’re keeping pace with Mia as she descends into her breakdown, asking yourself, “How much of this is real? Which spirits, if any, can she/we trust?”

Talk To Me feels at home in our new era of horror filmmaking. It finds its scares in both bloody violence and the loneliness of being dead, like a bridge between Ari Aster‘s Hereditary and Mike Flanagan‘s The Haunting of Hill House. It’s also deceptively smart in how it shapes its protagonist. The decision to make Mia’s grief at the loss of her mother the catalyst for much of the horror to be had means that, unlike a lesser horror movie, the few moments of us pleading, “Please don’t do it,” aren’t out of exasperation but out of fear for what Mia might be tricked into doing.

The possessions at the core of the story feel fresh with their supernaturally dilated pupils and clenched-neck muscles, but it’s the performances that sell the viscerally uncomfortable takeovers. Wilde and Bird in particular are asked to do a lot with their performances of ghostliness, and they both deliver without fail.

The spirits in Talk To Me are also suitably frightening, from the ghostly figure in a gown who crawls on all fours to the final face of evil that appears at the end. However, the scariest thing about the story’s ghosts is that the majority of them are not malicious; they’re people, and they’re people whose waking afterlives are hell on earth. At one point, the ghost of a young girl appears to Mia and “invites her in” (the phrase that enables possession). Mia is immediately transported to a plane of flesh, blood and violence. Later, this same plane is shown to be a black void without time and without space. If these are the options for those on the other side, then the true fear isn’t of being killed—it’s of what happens next.

At 94 minutes, Talk To Me is a brisk watch offering a clever concept, true terror beyond the fleeting nature of a jumpscare and honest performances that ground the possession subgenre in a way that feels fresh for this new generation of “elevated horror.” –Max Bennion

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