The demons and devils may change but grief remains constant. Twin brothers and YouTubers (or at least they were) Danny and Michael Philippou seem to have taken this idea to the absolute extreme in Talk to Me, a chilling indie horror.
A24 plus horror has always been a lethal combination. And Talk to Me gives a fresh twist to well-known elements. It shows the power of typical scary tactics and how grief can lead to wrong choices and terrifying situations.
Horror movies have frequently used anguish as a driving force, as seen in the unsettling 1973 film Don’t Look Now. The story revolves around a couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) facing strange events in Venice after hearing that their deceased daughter is trying to reach out to them from the afterlife. Or Lars von Trier’s 2009 film Antichrist, where a couple attempts to rebuild their lives after their young son’s accidental death. They retreat to a secluded cabin in the woods, but they soon face disturbing and biblical-style madness.
In many similar stories, grieving people cope up with loss by trying to connect with or bring back their loved ones using supernatural methods. They turn to ancient burial grounds and seances to achieve their reunion. Talk to Me follows the footsteps of its predecessors.
Danny and Michael Philippou’s main lad Mia (Sophia Wilde) isn’t goth or interested in the occult. She’s trying to cope with her mother’s recent suicide and finds solace in her friend – Riley’s more cheerful family. Riley, raised by her caring but absent-minded mother Sue (Miranda Otto) and older sister Jade (Alexandra Jensen), also carries hidden wounds. Despite their anxieties and fears, both Mia and Riley keep them to themselves, longing for some laughter with friends over the weekend. When their friends suggest playing games involving severed hands and demonic entities, it feels like a welcome change from another night spent mourning absent parents.
Riley, the younger brother of Mia’s close friend Jade, becomes possessed while using the hand and appears to be taken over by Mia’s deceased mother. This convinces Mia that she can communicate with the afterlife. Like many horror stories, Mia’s grief leads her to tamper with the unknown and the spirits hungry for life. The chaos that follows is a result of her own depression, and it reaches a distressing climax with a haunting vision of Richie’s torment.
Philippou brothers create a sense of normalcy in Mia and Riley’s everyday lives, making the idea of ghoulish seances more intriguing. The supernatural elements also allow the directors to showcase their more lively and visually impressive work.
It’s a disturbing and frightening feeling, reflecting how addiction can gradually consume someone and lead them to their darkest moments. Mia and Riley encounter otherworldly consequences that appear as mental illness, but with a heightened sense of depravity, like a child laughing as it drowns in its own blood. The possession scenes are unsettling not due to fancy editing or acrobatic performances, but because of the twisted sense of irreversible corruption that takes over the affected person.
The movie’s conclusion remains uncertain, hinting that Riley might have triumphed over the dark entity that possessed her. This ambiguous ending leaves the audience with a glimmer of hope, despite the overall unsettling and disturbing nature of the film.