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Talk to Me

Australian supernatural horror about creepy hand that conjures spirits back into life recycles old genre devices to great results, and has the potential of establishing a film franchise - on VoD on Monday, September 18th

Demonic possession tropes are revamped in this innovative horror by Australian director duo Danny and Michael Phillipou, where the usual apparatuses of Ouija Boards or Pentagrams used to conjure spirits are replaced by a embalmed hand rumoured to belong to a psychic who once communicated with the dead. The result is an exhilarating fast-paced ride, albeit through familiar teen horror territory. It borrows aesthetic devices from Gen Z show Euphoria, successfully incorporating them into Mia’s (in a visceral performance by Sophia Wilde) escalating PTSD.

Such elaborate manifestations of trauma are a continuous source of inspiration for much of the genre; think Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2015), Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018), Midsommar (2019), and Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond, 2021), to name a few. The trauma in this instance is the suicide of Mia’s mother. Her spirit is conjured back into existence during a séance using the bizarre hand. The entity of course proceeds to wreak havoc.

Holding the hand allows a participant to see the spirit of a dead person sitting across from them, in their decaying form. The spirit is invited to possess the body for 90 seconds, with an addictive upshot of an instant high. Participants are forced to release the hand once time is up. An impression of Mia’s mum appears through Riley (Joe Bird), the younger brother of best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen). She begs for a few more seconds. The spirit refuses to leave Riley’s body, turning malevolent, hellbent on violently self-harming, and haunting Mia.

At first Talk to Me treads on conventional horror terrain, in the vein of Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kusama, 2009) and Cabin Fever (Travis Zariwny, 2016). Formulaic scenes of rowdy groups of insecure teenagers in the suburbs (played mostly by actors in their 20s) seeking cheap thrills in the occult. Each participant’s summoning is visualised like a hit from a bong, staggered one after the other, presented like TikTok videos. Once Riley is severely harmed, the film departs from cliché adolescent horror morphing into a pulsating adrenaline-filled sequence of sinister events. This otherworldly mush reflects Mia’s deteriorating mental state. The creepy atmosphere intensifies, ratchet up by a vigorous musical score by Cornel Wilczek, wrapping itself into a sombre finale which cleverly pays homage the directors’ Greek roots.

Interestingly, there is very little by way of explanation as to how this hand fell upon the hands of these teenagers or how it is accepted that a dead spirit will naturally appear every time someone touches it. Yet the manner and speed by which the plot is set-up spurs you to suspend belief and accept this state-of-play. It boldly gestures to the directors’ intentions for Talk To Me sequels to illuminate us on the source of all this paranormal activity. The concept here is strong, one that can easily carry the weight of a franchise. The Australian directors have shown great skill and vision.

Talk To Me is in selected cinemas on Friday, July 28th. On BFI Player and Prime Video on Monday, September 18th


By Daniel Theophanous - 28-07-2023

Daniel has contributed to publications such as Little White Lies, BFI, Tape Collective, Hyperallergic, DMovies and many others. A lot of Daniel’s work is focused on LGBTQI+ cinema and hosts a podcas...

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