Sometimes, a really good horror story can be conjured from the simplest of elements. A supernatural object. Oblivious teens. And a dangerous setting. This lethal mix drives the new frightener TALK TO ME, a very effective thriller from the promising Australian filmmaking team of Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou. Their first feature as directors is bold, violent, and imbued with a strong streak of moralism. Pound for pound, it’s a sharply realized creeper, easily the best so far of 2023.
The story starts ragging on teens from the get-go with a young man named Cole attempting to locate his troubled brother Duckett at a noisy get-together in an Australian ‘burg. The house party is chock full of inebriated guests, mostly underage, and they ignore the concerned Cole as he searches for his bro. Cole finally finds him in a bedroom, seemingly in some sort of hypnotic state. What is ‘possessing’ him? Is it the artifact of a strange petrified hand lying nearby? As the older teen tries to usher his kid brother to safety, he’s stabbed by his resistant sibling. The other guests stare in shock, unaware of the supernatural presence that had invaded the party and taken control of one of their guests.
That artifact will soon enter the lives of some other troubled teens as well. Jade (Alexandra Jensen) is a popular teenager whose younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) is as much of an outsider at school as she is an insider. Jade wants to go to a party with her bestie Mia (Sophie Wilde), a wild child looking for any reason to get a buzz on after her mother’s suicide two years earlier. The immature Mia eggs on Jade to let Riley tag along, arguing the more the merrier, and sis reluctantly obliges. It’s a disastrous decision, however, one that will upend all of their lives in a matter of hours.
At the party, a new teen in possession of the severed hand introduces it to the other guests and soon a number of willing kids are shaking hands with it. As soon as they invite it to take possession of them by uttering the words “Talk to me” they’re turned into portals for demon possession. Mia revels in her possession, carnally squirming in her seat and feeling more alive than she has since her mother’s death.
When it’s Riley’s turn, he has a disastrous reaction. He becomes possessed by the spirit of Mia’s suicidal mom, who informs her daughter that there was more to her death than meets they eye. Additionally, the motherly demon takes out her anger on Riley, forcing him to bash his head against the wall till he almost loses an eye. The boy is rushed to the hospital, while Mia is compelled to steal the hand to find out more.
This whole horrifying set-piece is directed with visual flair and visceral frights by the brothers Philippou. They may be first timers, but they shoot, edit, and score like cinematic veterans. For the rest of the frightener, the thrills and chills build exponentially as Mia becomes more and more obsessed with the hand and Riley’s condition worsens.
What I admired most about the Philipou’s work here is their strong sense of morality. They’re not just sharp craftsmen, but they’re great scolds in the Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock tradition. They not only deliver the screams but they serve up the life lessons on a silver platter too with the main one being – those who play with fire will get burned. Severely.