(2023, 15) A24, Causeway Films, Bankside Films, & Talk to Me Holdings
An embalmed hand grants a group of teens the ability to talk to the dead, and allow them some temporary possession in return for an addictive high. But when one of the séances lasts a little too long, the dead start to overstay their welcome.
Starring: Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Miranda Otto
You might think, going into Talk To Me, that you have a good idea of where the plot is going to go, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Some people mess around with forces they don’t understand or respect, they take it too far, some very unpleasant ghosts take control, and everything goes horribly, and violently, wrong. The possession sub-genre of horror has been done a hundred times before and there are only so many ways it can end up. So it is to directing brothers Danny and Michael Philippou’s credit that Talk To Me manages to feel like a fresh take on the genre, which focuses on characters over jump-scares and doesn’t shy away from tackling some big issues behind the supernatural shenanigans.
Handy to have?
The film follows Mia (Wilde) who has recently lost her mother and spends more time with her best friend Jade (Jensen) and Jade’s little brother Riley (Bird) than with her also-grieving father. The central premise is that these kids have acquired a means of contacting the dead – a subtly creepy ceramic ornament that may or may not contain the embalmed hand of a psychic medium. By holding it and saying “Talk to me”, one teen at a time can summon a spirit that only they can see and talk to. They can then invite the spirit to possess them by saying “I let you in”, which allows the others to talk to the spirit. The possessions are carefully timed because, if they go on for more than 90 seconds, the ghosts might get too comfortable and decide to hang around.
It is, clearly, a terrible idea – we have been conditioned through other horror films to know that possession tends not to end particularly well – so watching the teens casually filming each other playing around with it immediately feels wrong. The young cast are relatively unknown but all give strong performances, clearly having some fun throwing themselves headlong into the possession scenes (one possession of Jade’s boyfriend, Daniel, involving some particularly nauseating commitment).
We need to talk…
As well as being the phrase that invites spirits for a chat, the title hints at some of the deeper issues that are being explored here. The possessions are a metaphor for a range of issues that, in reality, would be much better dealt with by talking to someone. Characters are roped into joining in through a combination of curiosity and peer pressure only to find that the high doesn’t justify the consequences yet, like an addict, they can’t resist having another go. When describing why the experience felt so good, Mia says that she took pleasure and comfort in feeling detached from her body and acting as a passenger – an analogy that is often used to describe depression. Other themes such as responsibility, self-harm and grieving are also tackled effectively and make the film feel a lot more grounded and relatable than other horrors.
That’s not to say it’s not also an effective horror movie. The violence is infrequent but all the more shocking for it, compounded by some excellent practical make-up. The spirits that we see are not overtly monstrous – these are ghosts rather than the demons of Insidious or the Conjuring – but they are very clearly dead people and are suitably disturbing and gross as a result. You probably won’t get any nightmares, but if you have teenage kids you will leave the cinema wanting to make sure they’re OK.
Would we recommend?
Overall, the film isn’t perfect – there are some pacing issues in the first act because of the amount of exposition it tries to fit in, and it stumbles slightly over its own rules in the final act. But it is one of the more original and interesting possession films to have been released for some time, anchored by a strong young cast and some important messages about mental health.