Talk to Me

Horror newcomers the Philippou brothers aim to shock

By Bradley Lane

Modern horror has seen a resurgence in both popularity and quality over the last decade or so, and no studio is more responsible in spearheading this effort than A24. Whenever the company produces a new horror film it comes with a level of prestige that most filmmakers would kill for. Not only does it come with a built-in fan base for upcoming projects, but it also is a signal to general audiences to set their expectations higher than general horror releases. Acquired at this year’s Sundance film festival, Talk to Me is the first feature film from directing duo Michael Philippou and Danny Philippou, who got their start as youtubers. A24 is synonymous with highlighting interesting new talents behind the camera, and that remains true for the Philippou brothers. Unfortunately, their interesting directorial style is held back by a weak script that results in a disappointing pastiche of the existing A24 horror brand.

Set in suburban Adelaide, the teens at the center of this story are infected with the quintessential teenage condition, boredom. This boredom leads Mia, our protagonist played by newcomer Sofie Wilde, to seek out locals who have been going viral online with videos of supposed recreational spiritual possession. When Mia finally does get her hand on the … hand that grants communication between the living and the dead she quickly becomes addicted to the rush of having supernatural forces take hold of her body. As this reckless pursuit of undiluted catharsis endangers her friends and isolates those close to her, Mia has to reckon with the evil forces she has invited into her life.

It is nearly impossible for a possession horror film to subvert the tropes of such a tried- and-true horror formula. The spin that Talk to Me aims to put on the genre is a possession as addiction metaphor with grief and loss driving this downward spiral. Unfortunately for the film, this interpretation of possession horror has been done with more nuance and with more bite in Fede Alvrez’s 2013 remake of Evil Dead. What exists outside of this paradigm is a half-baked commentary on internet culture and unimaginative reinterpretations of ideas found in pillars of the genre like Hereditary, Insidious, and Possession (1981).

The film’s saving grace, however, is the team behind the camera. The Philippou brothers have a knack for captivating imagery, and tightly designed horror set pieces. The implementation of practical effects in conjecture with the physicality of the possession performances will surely please gore-centric horror fans and gross out general audiences in equal measure. However, outside of these louder, more intense moments of tension the largely young cast struggles to convey emotions outside of abject terror (with the exception of the extremely compelling Joe Bird as Riley who displays talent far beyond his years).

Ultimately Talk to Me is an enjoyable if extremely derivative take on possession horror. Despite it having all of the nuance of an after-school anti-drug PSA, the excellent camera work and editing keep it moving at a brisk enough pace to be watchable if unremarkable. Talk to Me is currently showing exclusively in theaters. – 2.5/5 stars