Talk To Me is a triumph. One that will leave an indelible mark that will have you chewing on its implications for days afterward
The genre of supernatural horror has been done to death in recent years. In fact, the genre has become so predictable that many of us feel like we’re watching the same movie, just re-tuned and churned out to the masses. So when a movie dares to break the mold, push the boundaries of expectation, and delivers a legitimately jaw-dropping spectacle, it’s a significant step forward. And the latest movie to test the water is Talk To Me, a supernatural horror/thriller from directorial debutants Danny and Michael Philippou.
The duo took the Sundance Film Festival by storm when they debuted the film to audiences. And it caused such a stir that it sparked a bidding war for distribution rights. And now, with the film hitting UK cinema screens on July 28th, we have been treated to our first look at the property. But does it truly warrant the acclaim? Or is the film just another letdown in the sea of mediocrity?
Fear not, horror fans, Talk To Me is a triumph. One that will leave an indelible mark that will have you chewing on its implications for days afterward. And although the film is light on the jump scares, it more than makes up for it with some disturbing images that highlight the dangers of tampering with the paranormal. And that is the hallmark of a great movie.
The film follows a group of friends who become addicted to a new “party game” and use an embalmed hand to conjure spirits. After a few initial scares, they quickly become addicted to the new chills and thrills and push them to their limits. So much so that soon, dark and evil entities begin to make their presence known, and the results are chilling.
The initial premise sounds creepy, but the film is much more than that. At its heart, the film highlights the trauma associated with the loss of a loved one and serves up a legitimately engaging story. One that will resonate with every one of us. The new party game is equally believable as the youngsters continue to test their limitations and seek out the next party buzz. Which is a true representation of our culture today. And there are always casualties along the pathway to euphoria.
The film highlights the dangers of participating in a séance when tormented spirits come to the fore. The unsuspecting teens are dared to invite these entities in while the spectators film the possession on their smartphones. But the longer the spirits inhabit the body, the stronger they become, and soon, the inevitable happens and the unsettling rollercoaster ride begins. The possessions are both chilling and haunting. So much so that you become a willing spectator to the macabre game. And for a time, you feel like you’re in the room. As if the possessions are tangible which makes the outcome all the more jarring. At times it’s an uncomfortable watch and it leaves its mark. Which is the hallmark of a great team of creatives.
The screenplay by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman hits hard. But it is tempered by some genuinely funny and tension-cutting humor that strikes the perfect balance. From the opening moments, the film hooks you. The Philippou brothers quickly set the tone for what we are about to see and the results are next level. The introduction is shot from a first-person perspective which transports us into the film with ease; and as we follow the eerie breadcrumbs to their conclusion, the climax is jaw-droppingly good. The brothers take what would be a stereotypical horror trope and turn it on its head to present it in a fresh, contemporary way. And from that moment, you can throw your expectations out of the window.
The same can be said about the camera work the brothers employ here. Each scene is shot so smoothly that we forget we’re watching a movie. We are transported into the room and experience the events firsthand. Which makes the possessions all the more jarring and frightening. The ominous atmosphere is palpable and the tension makes for an uncomfortable and relentless 95-minute thrill ride. And it is very refreshing to bypass the stereotypical box-ticking trope of traditional horror fare.
The human side of the story is where the strength of the material truly excels. The downcast atmosphere following the death of a loved one ensures a melancholic tone and the cast truly rises to the challenge to make it feel real. The cast is flawless in this sense because it is through this pain that the characters come to life. Mia (Sophie Wilde) leads the charge here and her story is as engaging as it is weighted. There isn’t a moment when the performance slips. Even when interacting with the rest of the cast. Especially her attachment to her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and her little brother Riley (Joe Bird.)
They truly feel like an extended family. And when things take a dark turn and relationships are tested, we truly feel for them. Their interactions are so genuine that we share their pain when things get real and feel the strain as they are torn apart from the inside. And optimizing this family dynamic is the sensational Miranda Otto who delivers a solid performance as Jade and Riley’s mother Sue. Otto delivers a standout performance here and produces some of the best lines in the film. These witty and well-placed quips cut through the tension and restore the balance when it needs it. And they serve as the perfect counterpoint to the unnerving images that we quickly become accustomed to.
Cementing this point is the beautifully atmospheric score from Cornel Wilczek. The composer adopts a simple approach to the film. And the results are a suitably atmospheric soundtrack that accentuates the tension we see on screen. Wilczek’s music delivers a chilling soundscape that is as understated as it is vital to the tone. But it helps to maintain the eery ambiance the Philippou brothers strived to create.
By now it should be abundantly clear that Talk To Me is an absolute blast. I wasn’t expecting much from these directorial newcomers, and my arrogance helped to make the material all the more impactful. But that is to their credit. The brothers, coupled with the impressive cast, and the relentless need to push the envelope delivered a surprise package that I was not expecting. And if this is a sign of things to come from this team, I cannot wait to see more from them.
Sadly, there are a few minor niggles that derail the impact of the film. The first is its pace. For a swift 95-minute horror you’d expect a brisk slasher pace. But here, the film often slows to a crawl. Although it isn’t detrimental to the overall story, the sudden slowing of the pace feels out of place and makes you yearn to get back to the crux of the story. But that only helps make the next set piece all the more vivid. So it’s a necessary evil here and only a minor niggle. There are also a few moments of predictability scattered throughout – but thankfully, these are few and far between.
Overall, I had a blast with Talk To Me. In a time where slasher movies and typical horror fare are in danger of becoming stale, the Philippou brothers have arrived to alter the formula and present it to us anew. No, the premise isn’t original, and some tropes are unavoidable, but as far as debuts go, it’s safe to say that the brothers have nailed it here.
If you’re looking for a totally fresh and chilling experience, this is the horror for you. It’s light on jump scares, big on unsettling images, and hits with enough weight that you’ll be chewing on the outcome for weeks to come. The Philippou brothers have produced something that truly leaves its mark. And that is the hallmark of a great horror film. Enjoy!
Talk To Me is distributed by A24/Altitude Films and releases in UK cinemas on July 28th
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!