The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - TALK TO ME | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - TALK TO ME

Hoping to contact her late mother, a teen unleashes evil during a seance.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou

Starring: Sophie Wilde, Miranda Otto, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Djanji, Zoe Terakes

Talk to Me poster

At every party there's always that one person. Somebody's parents are away for the night, you turn up clutching some illicit booze, and there's that one person at the party; a friend of a friend, a cousin, a neighbour; a person liminal to your usual social circle that is nonetheless at the party and who is dangerously extra. They're the person who gives you your first joint or mushroom, or worse. The person who spins the bottle, starts a fight, pushes the party further then it would have gone. They're trouble, and in Talk to Me, they have with them a severed hand covered in gypsum plaster, graffitied and posed to mid-handshake, and it can contact the dead - yikes, indeed.

Talk to Me review

It is part of the supremely careful storytelling of Danny and Michael Philippou's (with co-writing from "Bill Hinzman"- hmmm) Talk to Me that we don't see the hand or its owners (rough kids Hayley, Zoe Terakes, and Joss, Chris Alosio) until we've been manipulated into caring, via the film's strong writing and warm performances, about the characters who will be mainly affected by its paranormal cruelty. There is Mia (Sophie Wilde), who following the death of her mother is estranged from her father and more or less living with bestie Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and her little brother Riley (Joe Bird). Mum (Miranda Otto) seems to be ok with this, with the implication that Mia is extra support for the tween Riley. In the mix is Daniel (Otis Dhanji), who is Mia's ex and Jade's new boyfriend. Just really believable, likeable kids, with an already intriguing social dynamic. Let's hope nothing bad happens to them, eh?

Glimpsed in viral moments on mobiles and laptops throughout the opening is phone footage of house party teens seeming to go into a weird trance upon shaking the hand, like a fit but with buggier eyes and stranger contortions, which has been filmed and shared with juvenile glee. Our interest is piqued, as is Mia and co's, and, before you can say Momo Challenge, they find themselves at a gathering with Joss, Hayley and their mad supernatural hand... The Philippous frame the ensuing seance scenes as akin to the sort of recognisably spooky party games we've all played, with the same giggly nerves as if That Person had brought an Ouija board, or knew the right five words to say into a bathroom mirror (admit it - you've dared yourself to say "Candyman" more than four times...). Here the rules involve lighting a candle, gripping the hand while intoning the film's title, and being very careful not to exceed the 90 second time limit of contact lest something is brought back. No prizes for guessing what happens...

Talk to Me review

But it's the how of it happening in Talk to Me which is compellingly, horrifically plausible. Mia, on a tear due to the anniversary of her mum's passing, is first to try it. And even though what she witnesses (only the user, and us, can see the spirit) is horrible, she goes again, and again, and so the others do too, in an excitable montage sequence which explicates the drug metaphor the film works with. Mia says she feels like she's glowing after doing it, and the effects of contacting the spiritual world seem deeply energising; moreover, the easy manner in which the kids embrace the supernatural reminded me of the way in which the alternate experience of psychedelics is readily accepted by participants. The Philippous credibly express the wild naivety of being a kid, that sense of safety in numbers and subtle peer pressures which characterise adolescent groupings. Eating a spoonful of cinnamon, throwing ice water over yourself, contacting the dead: everybody else is doing it, so I will too. Along with wanting to impress Mia, it is this false sense of security that compels Riley to try the hand.... it goes about as well as giving a kid that age a tab of acid would.

What started as a fun time in a party descends to one of the kids hospitalised, and Mia continuing to use the hand by herself, joylessly addicted. The filmic precedent is Flatliners as interloping apparitions appear in reflection or at the edge of the frame, with ghosts either malicious or sad, or, in the case of the one who looks like Mia's dead mum, an exceptionally creepy blend of both. Talk to Me is an A24 film, and so the tropes of elevated horror such as grief and mental illness are inevitably present, but delivered in a way that is urgent and fresh and dedicated not to navel gazing but full on entertaining the audience. As is the fashion in horror (Jordan Peele, Zach Cregger, David Gordon Green-ish) the Philippous have a background in comedy (YouTube shorts - I tried watching their channel but it "wasn't for me") and perhaps the precision of the genre is evident in this film's tight rhythms and energy, but there is nothing funny otherwise about Talk to Me. This is a nasty film, and completely without mercy, both for its young characters and the audience watching. Gruesomely practical and very wet effects communicate physical trauma in a way that made my stomach curl.

Talk to Me review

There is so much to unpack, too: the leitmotif of hands throughout the film - nails being painted, broken fingers; POTENTIAL SPOILER the implications of the ending with someone's miraculous recovery - it's another spirit trick, isn't it? SPOILER ENDS. The drug metaphor of Talk to Me is clear, but perhaps there is another correlation to be made which involves a willing audience member sitting down in the dark and inviting scary images into their vision, enslaved by the dangerous, hedonistic buzz of it all. I can't remember being so traumatised by a horror film, yet here I am, excited about the next time I watch it and thrilled about whatever dark gems the Philippous cut in the future. Talk to me Talk to Me, again and again.

Talk to Me is on Netflix UK/ROI now.

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