Horror movies about communicating with the dead are nothing new. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a great creepy movie out of it, as evidently seen in Danny and Michael Philippou’s solid directorial debut in Talk to Me. The Australian-born twins, best known for their YouTube channel called RackaRacka, manage to take the familiar premise and turn it into one hell of a supernatural-horror mayhem.
Instead of the usual seance and Ouija board commonly seen in most like-minded horror movies, the method comes in the form of an embalmed hand. We learn little about its origin and the Philippou twins clearly aren’t interested in feeding us with the obligatory backstory formula. They keep it as vague as possible and that’s what makes the embalmed hand scary and eerily enigmatic.
Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Joss (Chris Alosio) are the two teenagers who have the embalmed hand. They use it to impress their friends during the party as they dare them to grab the embalmed hand placed on the table, and say the words “talk to me” before moving on to saying “I let you in”. Doing so would result in the spirit that he or she summons in the first place entering into one’s body. The rest of them would whip out their phones and start recording videos. The person has only 90 seconds max to enjoy the conjuring experience. But if exceeds the time limit would cause the spirit to inhabit the person’s body forever.
Everything is fine at first until one of the characters played by Riley (Joe Bird) becomes an unfortunate victim when the conjuring ritual goes horribly wrong. The Philippou twins show us the ugly consequences of what happens if one goes over-limit. It’s uncompromisingly brutal to the point you might find yourself flinching over the graphic violence. They even go as far as amplifying the ferocity of the ritual-goes-awry with impeccable sound effects designed to evoke a sense of fear and shock.
The remarkable urgency showcased in the Philippou twins’ no-holds-barred visuals undoubtedly made Talk to Me such an intense cinematic experience. The movie may have suffered from an erratic midsection but it doesn’t deter the overall quality of the story, which is co-written by Danny Philippou and fellow newcomer Bill Hinzman. The movie is also anchored by the introduction of Mia (Sophie Wilde, making her feature-length debut in a breakthrough lead performance), a 17-year-old teenager who is still reeling from the loss of her mother. She has been doing her best to pull herself together and by joining the ritual of talking to the embalmed hand, she finally found something to escape from reality. However, the reality grows increasingly worse when one of the rituals somehow triggers a chain of events related to her past.
The underlying theme of grief along with Mia’s plight gives the story a much-needed jolt of dramatic tension. Although Sophie Wilde steals the show in Talk to Me, the rest of the actors are no slouches either. The movie is equally a technical triumph in combining practical and CGI seamlessly while Cornel Wilczek deserves equal mention for his riveting score. Then, there’s the ending. Let’s just say it was something I didn’t see it coming and after the movie’s 95-minute runtime, Talk to Me certainly made its mark as one of the best horror movies of 2023 so far.