Talk to Me review: Possession becomes addiction in terrifying horror

Chris Tilly
Poster for Australian horror movie Talk to Me.

Talk to Me is a new Australian horror that’s big on atmosphere, filled with scares, and feels like it could herald the start of a smart new franchise.

Horror from down under comes in many shapes and forms. There have been creatures features where nature attacks, like Long Weekend and Razorback. Outback horror that makes creative use of the barren landscape, with Picnic at Hanging Rock and Road Games standouts. And splatter-fests where the gore quotient is high and horror is combined with jet-black humor, of which Wolf Creek and The Loved Ones are two modern-day classics.

More recently however, the country has had hits with a very different brand of horror; one where sadness fills the screen, and grief underpins the scares. The Babadook – and more recently Relic – fall into that category, being as much drama as horror. And now Talk to Me can be added to the list.

The film is directed by brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, who made their names shooting action-packed videos for social media. But their debut feature is more serious and much darker than those comedy shorts. Especially at the start.

The ultimate cold open

The YouTube videos Danny and Michael made are brief and to the point. Which is exactly how Talk to Me begins. Via the ultimate cold open.

It kicks off with a lengthy tracking shot that follows a teenager through a house party nestled somewhere in the Australian suburbs. The boy seems to be on a mission, during which he passes Chekov’s knife in the kitchen.

Turns out the lad is looking for a friend called Duckett, whom he finds by bursting through a locked bedroom door, and who appears to be in a bad way. Then following a spot of brief misdirection, all hell brakes loose. Though the violence is over as fast as it began, and it’s shocking stuff. As well as a grandstanding way to start proceedings.

Then we’re into the story proper, which revolves around a group of teens who live in that same suburb. There’s Mia (Sophie Wilde), who holds a torch for Daniel (Otis Dhanji), who is dating her best friend Jade (Alexandre Jensen), whose little brother Riley (Joe Bird) likes Mia. Which is very much the stuff of an Aussie soap.

But those complex interpersonal relationships mean there’s an undercurrent of drama in the film’s early scenes. Which translates into additional suspense when the proverbial hits the fan, and friend turns on friend.

The rush of the scare

Talk to Me wastes little time getting to the good stuff, via a sort-of seance. The local kids have got hold of a mysterious ceramic hand that appears to have supernatural powers. So they’ve been organizing parties, filming their friends being possessed by said hand, and posting the videos online, with some success.

Our protagonists attend one such party, and Mia agrees to go under. So a candle is lit. The embalmed hand is held. She utters the titular words “Talk to Me,” and by doing so, agrees to let something in.

For the next 90 seconds Mia sees a spirit, appears to be possessed, and spouts cruel, foul-mouthed jibes at her friends. Then she lets go, the candle is blown out, and the connection becomes seemingly severed.

But the rush of the scare becomes addictive. So more parties follow, with more possessions, each more intense than the last. Building to a sequence in which young Riley goes under, and it all goes horribly wrong; a brutal passage that manages to be both terrifying and heartbreaking.

A film of two halves

Talk to Me is pretty much perfect horror up until this point. The characters feel real, acting and talking in a way that’s more authentic than the majority of teen horrors. The lore is intriguing, with the history of said hand hinted at via intriguing contradictory theories. While the film has already featured three lengthy and incredibly effective scares; the kind that will live long in the memory.

Unfortunately, the film’s second half doesn’t quite live up to that promise. Protagonist Mia is grieving due to a family tragedy, the sadness making her more susceptible to the spirits. But that conceit feels like it’s been done to death in recent years – even in some of those aforementioned Aussie horrors – which somewhat lessens the power of her journey.

Similarly screenwriters Bill Hinzman and Daley Pearson – alongside co-writer Danny Philippou – maintain an ambiguity regarding the hand and the spirits that make the movie as much mystery as horror. But that leads to frustration as the ending approaches, with too many questions unanswered, and the movie failing to fully pay-off everything it sets up.

The Verdict – Is Talk to Me good?

Talk to Me is a wild ride. One that takes characters who feel real – and immediately likeable – then puts them through a living hell. Which makes for great horror.

Sophie Wilde is superb as Mia, hinting at the character’s anxiety and depression so the audience is constantly questioning her mental state, which adds an additional layer of tension to proceedings. While she’s brilliantly supported by an ensemble who feel like they are actually experiencing these awful events. Which isn’t always the case in teen horror.

But the real star of the show is the Philippou brothers, who effortlessly integrate their YouTube knowledge and skills into the narrative, taking classic possession sequences, and putting an inventive and exhilarating spin onto them so said scenes leap off the screen.

And while they don’t quite stick the landing, what comes before makes the journey worthwhile. Especially their drawing of the connection between possession and addiction, an inspired choices that means the themes of Talk to Me suddenly become universal. And pave the way for more stories to be told in this universe should the brothers which to explore them.

Talk to Me review score: 4/5

There have been possession movies since the dawn of film, but Talk to Me finds something new to say and fresh do in the genre.

Talk to Me is in cinemas now, and for more coverage, see below:

Talk to Me review | Influence of The Babadook | Is it streaming? | Does Talk to Me have a post-credits scene? | Ending explained | Sequel plans


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