Talk To Me (2023) Movie Review: “You’re not yourself when you’re high.” One could almost write it off as a Reagan-era “War on Drugs” cliché if it were not so painfully true. Australian twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou’s debut feature film Talk To Me literalizes this saying to horrific effect in its riveting and strikingly original take on the demonic possession horror subgenre.

Talk to Me is reminiscent of It Follows in its depiction of isolated teens navigating all too adult horrors with little to no adult support in an uncanny yet psychologically familiar, if not literally accurate, depiction of adolescence.  Featuring an effective ensemble cast, it focuses on the relationships between Mia (Sophie Wilde), her longtime friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), Jade’s boyfriend and their mutual friend Daniel (Otis Dhanji), and Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird).

Mia, the protagonist and, ultimately, tragic figure of the film, is marked by loneliness and quiet desperation. An only child living with her distant father (Marcus Johnson) in the wake of her mother’s death by overdose, she latches on to Jade’s family of three, Jade, Riley, and their mother (Miranda Otto).

What keeps Talk to Me from being just another addition to the now familiar subgenre of  “griefsploitation” elevated horror (exemplified by A24 films Hereditary, Midsommar, and Men)  is its central conceit, equal parts campy and bleak: teenagers these days are getting high off of letting spirits possess their bodies! Specifically, some friends of Mia and Jade’s have come into possession of a mysterious porcelain hand, rigid, ghostly white, and covered in the inscrutable script, which allows you to connect to the realm of the dead by grasping it and uttering the phrases “Talk to me. I’ll let you in.”

After uttering these magic words, a candle is lit to “open the door” to the other side. Upon doing so, your body is inhabited by the spirit of a deceased person, causing you to choke, groan, and otherwise behave bizarrely while you experience an apparently incomparable high.

In one of the cinematographic crown jewels of the film, Mia, Jade, Daniel, Riley (who Jade reluctantly allows to join), and a few other older teens take turns getting high off the hand in a frenetic montage inspiring an uncomfortable blend of disgust and fascination. Each teen’s turn is capped at 90 seconds, after which the candle is then blown out, as the older teens advise that that is the safe limit (“If you go over 90 seconds, they want to stay.”). The guideline seems to derive from word of mouth and is reminiscent of similar advice regarding drug dosages, a rule of thumb that, while reassuring at the moment, cannot be consistently relied upon.

Talk To Me (2023) Movie Review
Joe Bird in Talk to Me (2022)

The collective high is short-lived as the evening’s festivities take a sharp turn for the tragic. Riley, the kid brother reluctantly allowed at the older teens’ party, begs for a turn with the hand. Jade, in classic older sister fashion, issues an emphatic “no,” but when she leaves the room, Mia relents and lets him have a turn. Riley’s turn at the hand goes violently awry when he becomes possessed by what appears to be the spirit of Mia’s dead mother. Unable to let go of the opportunity to communicate with her mother, Mia lets the 90 seconds elapse to horrific consequences in a gut-wrenching scene in which Talk to Me’s talented practical effects team steals the show.

The rest of the film explores the grim aftermath of Riley’s injuries on the night of the possession party. Without spoiling the rest of the plot, I can say that the film achieves a masterful balance between suspenseful action and thematic reflection, augmented by impressive sound design and haunting visual motifs.

The allegory of addiction looms in the forefront as Mia returns again and again to the hand, desperate to continue connecting with her dead mother and to try to figure out how to reverse the effects of the hand on Riley, who has been left in a coma. Mia becomes plagued with grotesque visions and grows increasingly isolated from the found family she had previously enjoyed in Jade and her brother and mother as her sense of reality is warped by her usage of the hand.

Images of limbo – Riley stuck in a coma, the recurring image of the dying kangaroo that Mia struck with her car in an early scene – abound, highlighting active addiction as a ghoulish place between life and death. While Talk to Me is not without the occasional rough edge or loose thread that comes with the territory of first-time filmmaking, it triumphs as a hauntingly original debut that delivers visceral, existential horror that grabs your hand and refuses to release its clammy grip.

Read More: The 10 Best Horror Movies of 2022

Talk To Me (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia
Talk To Me (2023) Movie Cast: Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Miranda Otto, Zoe Terakes, Chris Alosio, Marcus Johnson, Alexandria Steffensen
Talk To Me (2023) Movie Genre: Horror/Mystery & Thriller, Runtime: 1h 35m
Where to watch Talk To Me

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