With demonic possession being so thoroughly explored in the Evil Dead, Exorcist and Conjuring franchises it takes a special horror film to stand out among such stiff competition. Yet Talk To Me – a thrilling debut feature from Australian twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, who gave the world the chaotic RackaRacka YouTube channel (six million subscribers and counting) – injects the subject with a freshness that’ll leave audiences clamouring for more.
After a shocking opening scene which sees two teenage boys violently killed, we’re introduced to 17-year-old Mia (Sophie Wilde), a young woman whose mother killed herself. As if that trauma wasn’t enough emotional distress to contend with, her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) is going out with her ex Daniel (Otis Dhanji). At Mia’s insistence, the trio attend a séance where boisterous Hayley (Zoe Terakes) leads attendees to hold an embalmed severed hand and let evil spirits take control of them for no more than 90 seconds.
Mia’s turn at the spooky game yields gruesome visions but also reinvigorates her to such an extent that her fellow Adelaide teens soon follow suit. The ritual is scary but, as with many dangerous experiences in life, it’s an exciting diversion from the mundanity that curious people want to keep pushing as far as they can. Given this, some may view Talk To Me’s cautionary tale as a drug addiction allegory. Things begin to unravel when Mia lets Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) have a brief go on the hand with painful consequences. When he’s inevitably hospitalised, Mia’s mental state takes a turn for the worst and nightmarish visions begin to plague her.
The quality and vitality of the Philippous inaugural effort is less to do with any narrative originality and more to do with the world in which they situate their action and what they do with it. Mia and her pals are mixed-up teens, prone to foolishness, desire and jealousy like the rest of us but crucially, talk and act in recognisable ways. Where fully grown-up adults do appear on screen, they’re impressive too, with Miranda Otto (Eowyn in The Lord Of The Rings) on lightning form as Jade and Riley’s mother Sue, a funny and wise scene-stealer. Marcus Johnson’s portrayal of Mia’s father Max is different again, a caring, tender man trying to help his daughter navigate grief while keeping his own in check.
That said, this is a horror film and many will watch because they want to be scared – or, at the very least, spooked – and maybe even repulsed by some grisly sights, regardless of solid acting and realistic characterisation. Pleasingly, there are some stomach-churning scenes and a smattering of jump scares. Hardcore horror fans should expect less of a full-on festival of bloody carnage and more a new-school chiller in line with the first two films by Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar) or Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us). Regardless: for a top-ranking summer fright from Down Under, don’t miss Talk To Me.