Talk to Me’s Mia (Sophie Wilde (You Don’t Know Me, The Portable Door)) is still using an outdated iPhone because it contains irreplaceable memories of her dead mother. She also doesn’t put a case on it. This marriage of grief and devil-certainly-seems-to-care risk makes up the heart of A24’s new, thrillingly brutal horror film.
The film has two inciting incidents, one for the central question, and one for the plot. Mia’s story begins when she picks up her best friend’s little brother Riley (Joe Bird (Rabbit)) from the skate park, and they encounter a wounded animal on the road, which begs the question: should they put it out of its misery?
The second inciting incident occurs at a basement party for our intrepid high schoolers when a ceramic hand is brought out like a bong or keg of beer normally would. Invoking dares like Spin the Bottle or 7 Minutes in Heaven, the gang peer-pressures each other into holding the hand, summoning a ghost by saying the words “talk to me,” and volunteering for 90-second bouts of possession with the words “I invite you in.”
After that, it’s off to the races in what, on the surface, could be seen as a typical but well-executed “stupid teens risk death and dismemberment by doing or going to x” summer horror flick. And it is very well executed. Talk to Me does an incredible job leading into its scares without letting you feel the scares-per-page quotient typical of similar films. The horror of Talk to Me is just as much the horror of everyday life as it is the supernatural, and they mix smoothly for the most part. Even what could be defined as the film’s jump scares are rooted in surreality and existential fear more than raw surprise.
But there’s more to Talk to Me than just the very successful thrill of it. Directed by 30-year-old Australian Youtubers and filmmaking brothers Michael and Danny Philippou (RackaRacka), this is a horror film by two “cusper” millennials and a Gen-Z cast, a generation that has grown up on the internet, having never lived in a world without school shootings, and spending high school or college in a global pandemic. Talk to Me follows teenagers for whom inebriation is not enough of an escape from their woes, but who must micro-dose death and grief, using disassociation by possession to gain a feeling of control over their sense of doom — even if that control is simply choosing when and how to give into it.
What these children have lived through is sub-textual in the film for all except Mia, but the damage of it is not. They watch possessions on their phone as a trend, and they film their own in order to take part. For them, watching death is a part of the everyday, a past-time to laugh at, because if they took it seriously, they’d never have a chance to laugh at all. Grief, in the end, is the biggest scare of Talk to Me, as it walks through hospital corridors asking, if it’s a mercy to put a life out of its misery, what do we do when everyone is miserable?
This question hangs around Mia’s neck, who Sophia Wilde brings to life with a bolt of lightning, a performance that’s alive with grief, humor, and compassion. Notably, Wilde, Bird, and other performers such as Otis Dhanji (Aquaman, Don’t Make Me Go), playing Mia’s ex-boyfriend Daniel, all meet a difficult acting challenge, playing not only their primary characters but to multiple entities possessing them, making each spirit feel distinct in the performances. Alexandra Jensen (Beat) is also impressive as Jade, Mia’s best friend, and Daniel’s current girlfriend. The film is very focused on Wilde, Bird, Dhanji, and Jensen, which leaves most of the supporting cast underbaked, but even there some excellent blocking and crucial close-ups make this Lunchables® of a supporting cast into something closer to a real meal. One close-up in particular is owned by Chris Alosio (The Messenger, The Next Goal Wins) as Joss, owner of the ceramic hand, who, with one look, conveys the history of an entirely different horror story before this one.
Screened with a mixed audience of young fans and less-young critics, it is notable how closely the audience behavior mirrored that of the film’s young victims, laughing nervously at very specific veins of discomfort, shouting “What the f*ck” in unison at surreal frights, and screaming in horror in dawning revelation. Talk to Me is a thrilling experience in a theater, and, just maybe, a way for a crowd to micro-dose on some trauma of its own.
In theaters July 28th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official A24 Talk to Me webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.