REVIEW: Talk to Me (2023, dirs. Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 95 mins

UK Distributor: Altitude Films

REVIEWED DURING SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: LONDON

WHO’S IN TALK TO ME?

Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Miranda Otto, Zoe Terakes, Chris Alosio, Marcus Johnson, Alexandria Steffensen

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Danny Philippou (director, writer), Michael Philippou (director), Bill Hinzman (writer), Kristina Ceyton and Samantha Jennings (producers), Cornel Wilczek (composer), Aaron McLisky (cinematographer), Geoff Lamb (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A teenager (Wilde) becomes attached to a supernatural embalmed hand…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON TALK TO ME?

Horror is exceptionally difficult to pull off in any part of the world, but over in Australia, modern chillers like The Babadook, Wolf Creek, Relic, and Netflix’s recent Run Rabbit Run have shown that filmmakers who hail from Down Under really have a knack for making audiences jump up over their seats in fright. Now, you can add Talk to Me to that small collection of impressive Aussie horrors that well and truly go out of their way to make sure that their audience has as creepy and unsettling a time at the movies as possible.

The directorial debut of brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, who over on YouTube go by the more popular name RackaRacka, Talk to Me follows teenager Mia (Sophie Wilde) who’s grieving over the recent suicide of her mother, which has dampened her relationship with her distant father (Marcus Johnson) to where she spends most of her time at the home of her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) instead. The two attend a party one night where a new viral trend makes the rounds; whilst being filmed, participants will grab an embalmed hand, which is said to have belonged to a powerful spiritual medium, that causes them to see and communicate with ghostly figures that briefly possess the holder. Mia soon becomes addicted to the adrenalin that comes with the ritual, as do her friends for the clout it brings them on social media, but of course things soon go a bit too far and threaten to propel Mia into an inescapable spiral of danger and violence.

The foundations of the script, co-written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman, are certainly rooted in plenty of other supernatural horrors before it, with Flatliners being an easy comparison due to their incorrigible similarities (to where Talk to Me could genuinely be considered a better remake of Flatliners than the actual remake from a few years ago). That hardly matters, though, because Danny and co-director Michael Philippou execute the familiar themes with a resounding enthusiasm that after a while, you forget that you’ve seen most of it before. The directors’ background in creating highly inventive and darkly humorous shorts for their YouTube channel (example titles: Ronald McDonald Playground Slaughter!, Demonic Pikachu!, and Don’t Touch the Cookie Monster’s Cookies!!!!) certainly shows in plenty of scenes that rely on a devilish sense of humour – during one ritual, the possessed person makes out with… something that is definitely not human – which, more often than not, result in some unexpectedly strong cases of laughter.

It is also, perhaps a bit more predictably when it comes to RackaRacka, genuinely unhinged in a lot of places, making for some truly disturbing horror entertainment. There is violence in this movie that is harsh, shocking, and uncaring as to who it happens to, whether it’s a partier that commits a deadly act in an opening single-take sequence, or even someone who’s just barely a teenager. The quality of practical effects and make-up used to amplify some of these gory scenes is quite excellent here, as is the sound design which sharpens the audio of objects to a point where even a pillow feels like it could actually inflict major damage onto a person. Furthermore, the performances all around are incredibly strong – especially lead Sophie Wilde, who has scenes in this where you can tell this actor went to some truly dark and disturbed places just to come close to getting in the right mindset for some of her scenes – that you really do buy why these teens would engage in something that is so clearly going to go south at some point, making the shocking turns later on feel cathartic as well as unnerving.

The film doesn’t completely work, for there are times when it will lean a bit too heavily into the blatant symbolism, with a recurring motif featuring a bloodied kangaroo being particularly on-the-nose regarding one character’s insecurities. Also, for as devilishly entertaining as the movie as a whole is, I can see some audiences not reacting too well to it, for it reaches several points where it gets particularly nasty with its violence and with some of its characters that even those with stronger stomachs for this kind of extreme horror might find themselves being asked too much when it comes to accepting this level of harshness.

As long as you’re comfortable enough with gruesome chills and an unforgiving tone, Talk to Me will largely give you the kind of exhilarating, shocking, and twistedly fun time you’d want out of a good old-fashioned horror. It certainly ranks among the top horror films of the year so far, alongside Evil Dead Rise and well above something like Insidious: The Red Door, largely for its tenacity and the dedication of these filmmakers to go the extra mile with their outrageous appetite for gore and scares.

Not bad for the creators of Don’t Touch the Cookie Monster’s Cookies!!!! and other YouTube classics.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Talk to Me is a gruesome and unhinged horror that marks a devilishly entertaining feature debut for directors Danny and Michael Philippou, who provide a fun execution of familiar genre ingredients.

Talk to Me is showing in cinemas from Friday 28th July 2023

Click here to find showtimes near you!

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