Principal Cast : Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Miranda Otto, Zoe Terakes, Chris Alosio, Marcus Johnson, Alexandria Steffensen, Sunny Johnson, Ari McCarthy.
Synopsis: When a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill, until one of them goes too far and unleashes terrifying supernatural forces.

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A breakout debut feature from YouTube stars Adelaide-born twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, Talk To Me delivers unsettling chills and a dynamite performance from star Sophie Wilde, as well as hitting a number of horror genre tropes with energy and freshness. A low-budget chiller filmed locally around Adelaide, South Australia, the film’s grungy, oppressively dark tone manifest some remarkable skin-prickling thrills from its relatively simple premise, with one sensing a trajectory similar to that of fellow Aussie James Wan should the brothers decide to seek it out.

Siblings Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Riley (Joe Bird), as well as Jade’s best friend Mia (Wilde) are drawn into a terrifying dabbling with demonic spirits after a house party sees them interact with the mummified hand of an ancient reputed satanist, and by uttering the words “talk to me” can communicate with the dead. Of course, communicating with malevolent spirits in the afterlife is never a good idea for thrill-seeking teens, and as you can image things go horribly pear-shaped when Mia spends a little too long in contact with one of the entities claiming to be her recently deceased mother, Rhea. With Mia starting to lose her grip on reality, and cut off from her friends thanks to Jade’s domineering mother Sue (Miranda Otto), things take a horrifying turn when Riley’s attempts to kill himself lead her down a very dark spiral into madness.

Talk To Me is a little gem. It’s an angry little film, filled with bile and bitterness from multiple angles, not the least of which is the inter-teen angst filling the lighter aspects of the story with a sense of struggle. The writing is very, very sharp, the relationships between all the characters feels genuine – or rooted in realism for sure – and the Philippou Brothers’ direction is absolutely razor-sharp. Make no mistake, if you’re after an Aussie horror film to rival The Babadook (still the gold standard in this country, in my opinion) then Talk To Me comes a very close second. Few horror films truly terrify me these days because I tend to watch them with a detached, cynical barrier between me and what’s going on on-screen, and yet this film burrowed under my skin and affected me like few genre films have in recent times. One might suggest the sound design and cinematography were overblown a little – the creepy scratchings and subterranean pit-of-hell low frequencies leaned very heavily into overcompensating for a lack of action, but driven by Sophie Wilde’s heart-breaking performance the few real flaws here are overcome quite easily.

I say heartbreaking because Wilde’s Mia is a broken character, and horror films are far more effective when the main character has, or will, suffer through some trial not necessarily related to the premise of the film. Mia is a child of maternal suicide, her mother having (apparently) overdosed accidentally off-screen some time before the film opens, leaving her with significant mental scarring and a fractured relationship with her father Max, played by Marcus Johnson. Of course, this innate trauma feeds into the sense of loss and instinctual morally grey areas Mia seeks out throughout the story, culminating in her central actions in the pulsating third act when everything starts to unravel. Talk to Me takes the tortured soul and digs its fingernails into the maggoty flesh of grief without compunction, and turns a character who could have just been a poor young kid into one of substantial emotional heft. Wilde plays the part to perfection – she’s a feckless teenage girl initially but as the plot progresses and the film’s tone dives into an abyss of terror, she firms up as the real linchpin of the rising terror on display. Massive kudos to her for some of her work here.

My only real criticism of the film is that the rest of the teenage kids depicted in the film are just annoying assholes – seriously, none of them have watched enough horror films to work out that you don’t screw around with the afterlife, and allowing demons to inhabit your body, even briefly, is always going to end badly? Most of them are absolute chumps, particularly the dudebros within who I just wanted to punch in the head through the screen they annoyed me so much. Effective, sure, and most likely true to how real teens with no purpose would act and behave, but are you seriously telling me none of them sat for a second and thought any of this was a good idea? It’s why I still don’t stand in front of a mirror and repeat “Candyman” no matter how much I think it is just a joke. If there’s a single message for younger audiences to take from this film its that you don’t fuck with demons. They will ruin you.

In terms of direction, the Philippou’s do a fantastic job with their relatively low budget. The cinematography and minimal production design is atmospheric and creepy, the editing sharp as a tack, and whoever was involved in the sound design needs a serious pat on the back. Cheap horror film don’t have to be bad horror films and Talk To Me is arguably the toast of Aussie cinema this year with its absolutely standout box-office (dragged nearly $100m in globally off a sub $5m budget, an astounding feat for a film with no recognisable stars (other than Miranda Otto) or background. Sheer word of mouth gave this film its stellar results, and I applaud all involved for making a film worthy of being the cult classic it’s destined to be. I would suggest the premise isn’t quite up to snuff in terms of making for sequels, but as a one-and-done is supremely effective with its smaller scale and scope.

Talk To Me is a winner. A horror film with genuine aggressiveness and purpose behind its creation, the film is a 90-minute thriller that’ll have you gasping and quaking, and so achieves its purpose. The plot device of a mummified hand being a gateway to demonic possession is just the most forehead-slap easy-peasy “in” to a genre film in years, and the execution of it rests on both the performances and the production nailing their respective aspects. And they do. This is a white-knuckle Aussie horror film that demands – and deserves – attention. Hugely recommended.

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