Synopsis: When 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.
Stars: Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Miranda Otto, Zoe Terakes, Chris Alosio, Marcus Johnson, Alexandria Steffensen
Directors: Danny Philippou & Michael Philippou
Running Length: 94 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Though still early in the summer evening, the sky was beginning to turn an inky black when I was parking my car in the lot before the screening of A24’s new horror film Talk to Me. Our up-and-down summer weather had gone from the swarm of heat to the threat of rain quickly, so I was happy to be headed indoors for the next few hours, and a possible thunderstorm felt like the perfect way to get in the mood for what was to come. Sure enough, by the time I was walking inside, I could feel the raindrops start, and it had gotten so dark it looked hours later than it was. Leave it to A24 to think of everything in promoting their films…even corralling the weather into a mean frenzy.
I don’t think you’ll need thunder and lightning, or even the lights entirely off, to get a good jolt out of the slick scares offered up in this original endeavor from brothers Danny Philippou & Michael Philippou. Hailing from Australia, the twins became YouTube famous for their award-winning comedy horror channel RackaRacka. I wasn’t familiar with their work going in, and without that previous knowledge had a low bar to scale or compare their feature film debut to. If Talk to Me is any indication, they’ve amassed much skill from their YouTube days and experience working as crew members in 2014’s The Babadook.
A horrific incident at a noisy party opens the film, left unexplained, until it eventually crosses paths with Mia’s (Sophie Wilde) encounter with the embalmed hand of a medium who could speak with the dead. Still fractured after the unexpected death of her mother and detached from her remaining parent, Mia experiences the appendage at a large gathering as part of a viral challenge within her extended friend group. Her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) knows better than to tempt fate, but Mia, desperate to connect with someone and possibly make a play to impress cool clique master Hayley (Zoe Terakes), willingly offers herself up.
The experience of what happens when a person touches the hand is best left for you to find out at the theater, but it’s different for everyone in the film. No one can hold on longer than 90 seconds, and the candle lit at the beginning of the game must be blown out, or the spirit that comes to speak might not leave so easily. Guess what happens after a second night of hand chats, this time with a smaller group involving Mia, Jade, Hayley, and others including Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird)? Note to self in any séance situation: always blow the candle out.
As with many horror films involving an object, the more we find out about the item, the less interesting it becomes. Perhaps that’s why the brothers Philippou make Talk to Me less about the hand and more about its effect on Mia’s already fragile psyche. It’s a smart move, and Wilde’s performance is first-rate, starting the film as a relatable and vulnerable innocent but slowly changing course to a more problematic lead being guided by the wrong agenda. The script keeps the cast small and, aside from Miranda Otto’s (Annabelle: Creation) refreshingly no-nonsense effort as Jade and Riley’s mother, mostly adult free. The kids are not all right, and no one is coming to save them.
Skidding on the side of derailment during its final minutes but ending with a proper shiver chill, a future installment of Talk to Me might satisfy those who like their horror with all the blanks on their Mad Lib card filled in by the end. A sequel would likely delve into origin and further the mythology of the mysteriously powerful hand, plot points this film doesn’t have the patience (or, frankly, the time) to cover. Instead, the Philippou brothers have trained their gaze on what they have a talent for and delivered it at a high level.