SXSW2023 Review: Talk To Me

The directorial debut of Danny and Michael Phillippou asks the question: what if conjuring the dead became a party drug? This tantalizing premise forms the basis of A24’s latest tragic horror acquisition and is yet another solid entry in Australia’s ever expanding list of genre homeruns. This deft debut offers plenty of creeps and a fair amount of fun, destined to become yet another reason to celebrate this new golden age of horror.

The story finds social outcast Mia (Sophie Wilde) reeling from the traumatic and unexplained death of her mother. Hiding from her emotionally distant father, she finds some sort of solace grafting herself into the family of her friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), almost to the point where she takes over her big sister role to the young Riley (Joe Bird) when Jade can’t be bothered. When the popular kids being circulating footage of them supposedly becoming possessed over social media, Mia becomes transfixed with trying it out, begging her more popular friend to help her get in on the experience. Of course, when she finally gets her chance, the mixture of her unexamined grief and desire for connection quickly allow the thrill to turn into tragedy.

The film absolutely shines by treating the experience of possession like a drug trip. Inspired by a young neighbor’s ill fated trip that became a local viral event via snapchat, the Phillippou twins really struck gold with this concept. The set up is simple: passed along from party to party, the kids have come into possession of a mummified medium’s hand (or was it a Satanist? The rumors, of course, abound). Decked out in variously ominous and silly graffiti, it’s stretches its fingers out reaching to shake the hand of whoever dares. It’s a brilliantly designed horror artifact, to be honest – at once eerie and unassuming. The ritual is simple – they light a candle to open the ‘doorway’ while the participant (user?) takes hold of the hand and says: “talk to me.” Immediately an apparition appears, grotesque and imposing, and supposedly random. The user then invites the spirit into their body and they ride the highest high they’ve ever experienced. So long as they don’t stay possessed longer than a minute, of course.

What transpires, as you might imagine, is a harrowing journey where Mia begins to use the hand as a way to explore her trauma. Like an addict trying to numb whatever pain they’re running from, Mia clings to the hope of finding some answers on the other side while those she loves suffer from her desperate behavior. The Phillippou twins prove themselves to be adept at brutality with a couple of scenes that should make even seasoned horror fans flinch. Of particular notes, however, is the opening and closing scenes that contain brilliant and effective tracking shots, really wrapping the viewers up in impending dread.

“Talk To Me” is an adept debut that treats its main character’s grief with real empathy, exploring the desperation and desolation that often follows tragedy. It’s more accessible than many of A24’s horrors and will undoubtedly find its audience when it arrives this summer.