Sundance 2023 Review: TALK TO ME Conjures Up Modern Scares to Create a Visceral, Mind-Bending Experience
In the first two minutes of Talk to Me from Danny and Michael Philippou, the directing duo completely knocked me on my ass, and then continued to propel me forward on this truly twisted journey for the next 90 minutes or so that kept me guessing about the things that I was seeing as well as where this story was headed. So, by the time Talk to Me was over, I felt like I had just run a marathon. But without a doubt, Talk to Me is probably one of the most exciting horror debuts to come along in some time, as the Philippou brothers do a great job of taking some tried and true tropes into the 21st century and turning them squarely on their heads, as well as crafting several grisly sequences that left me genuinely unsettled.
Talk to Me follows a group of Aussie teens who have taken to the latest social craze: summoning spirits and then taking videos of the results. At the center of the story is Mia (Sophie Wilde), a high schooler who has been wrestling with her mother’s suicide and often spends most of her time escaping the heaviness of her home life while hanging out with her bestie Jade (Alexandra Jensen) whose mom Sue (Miranda Otto) and little brother Riley (Joe Bird) have both welcomed her into their fold as well. Mia, Jade and a bunch of their friends – including Jade’s boyfriend Daniel (Otis Dhanji) – decide at a house party one night to break out this mysterious relic that is rumored to be a casting of a dead mystic’s arm, and if you happen to hold hands with the spiritual totem and say “talk to me,” a random spirit will appear in front of you.
At first, it’s all fun and games for these undead dabblers, but once things take a diabolical turn (in a scene that is truly a jaw-dropper), Mia comes to realize that the forces they she and her friends have been summoning may not be so harmless after all, and shit goes sideways once the dead begin to inflict their own brand of reckoning on these careless callers who never considered the repercussions of their actions.
As someone who grew up obsessed with Ouija boards and probably rented Witchboard more than I should have as a pre-teen, I think the biggest aspect of Talk to Me that I loved was how the Philippou brothers found a way to sidestep the traditional avenue of communicating with the dead and created something that truly feels unique, but also like a fun homage to the old-school tools as well. Talk to Me’s younger cast members are all game here, with Wilde doing a great job of crafting a protagonist that you really want to see come through everything she endures in this story as unscathed as possible.
The supernatural sequences in Talk to Me were surprisingly chilling, and I say that as someone who enjoys horror but very rarely ends up rattled by movies these days. There were a few moments here that rattled my cage and then some though, and I was a big fan of just how well both Danny and Michael Philippou were able to craft an experience that really did throw my brain for a loop several times over. Also, as someone who closely follows the world of practical effects, both makeup designer Rebecca Buratto and prosthetics artist Cassie O’Brien Pollard are totally on my radar now after their impressive work on Talk to Me.
In my book, Talk to Me demonstrates that the future of horror is bright with up-and-coming filmmakers like Danny and Michael Philippou out there bringing their own unique storytelling sensibilities into the fold. Beyond that, I’m always a big fan of any cinematic experience that can figure out a way to creep right up under my skin, and Talk to Me did just that, and so much more. I’m definitely a big fan of this movie, and I’m so excited for other fans to check it out later this year because it’s totally worth your time.
Movie Score: 4/5