Print and Features Editor Jess Parker talks A24’s Talk to Me, finding it to be a chilling and worthy addition to the modern horror genre.
Production company A24’s Talk To Me (2022) is the feature-length directorial debut by Australian twins Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou, also known online as ‘RackaRacka’ for their horror-comedy sketches. Talk to Me is edge-of-your-seat gripping from beginning to end, consistently building suspenseful tension throughout its one-hour and thirty-five-minute runtime.
Opening with a thrilling one-shot cold-open that shows the horrifying consequences of demonic possession, Talk To Me sees social outcast Mia (Sophie Wilde) take part in a viral thrill involving conjuring spirits through connecting with the embalmed hand of a psychic, allowing them to play host in her body for ninety seconds. Once Mia and her friend Jade’s (Alexandra Jensen) younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) surpass the ninety-second threshold, what once seemed a mindless rush becomes a supernatural nightmare of uncontrollable proportions.
Sophie Wilde is an immensely strong lead for a relative unknown, stealing almost every scene she features in with commitment and dedication to the extreme range demanded of her character. ‘Quirky’ characters walk a fine line between comedically deranged to outright annoying; Wilde’s Mia is neither of these. She is indeed an outcast, yet she feels grounded in the reality that many high school outcasts are regular students that want to be liked by their cliquey peers, and simply are not. Mia is not necessarily likeable, but considering her tragic past and social standing, it is hard not to root for her against the unimaginable horrors she unwittingly unleashes.
An unsurprising stand-out performance in Talk to Me comes from Joe Bird. Although small in dialogue, Bird’s character Riley’s presence in the film’s narrative weighs heavy with pity and disgust as his innocence is twisted and mangled by a force he could never hope to understand. Although younger, Riley parallels Mia’s insecurities: he wants to fit in with those around him (in this case, the older kids), and uses the hand as social currency. Mia and Riley’s desperate need to fit in makes them susceptible to pushing clear boundaries. As they both surpass ninety seconds, they become vulnerable to forces far greater than them. Bird certainly gives Wilde a run for her money, putting in one of the most memorable performances this year.
Many new writers and directors have recently been finding their footing on the big screen by working with A24. 2022’s Everything Everywhere All At Once was written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (The Daniels), who had only ever written and directed one feature film together (Swiss Army Man, 2016) before their record-breaking and best picture-winning film dropped to the masses. The same goes for horror-heavyweight Ari Aster, with all three of his feature films being produced through A24’s backing. Talk to Me builds upon A24’s habit of taking in strays, having previewed initially at the 2022 Adelaide Film Festival before the indie studio swooped in at the film’s world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
A24 are a production company that has never been afraid to venture into dark corners, becoming well known for many of its horror flicks such as Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015), Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018), and Ti West’s X (2022), to name a few. Talk to Me slots perfectly into A24’s filmography and is a feature that cinemagoers can watch guilt-free in the context of the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. A selection of independent film companies, including A24, has been given the green light to continue operating by SAG-AFTRA. It appears that A24 has agreed to abide by the terms of SAG-AFTRA’s latest offer, allowing for A24’s production schedule to fill gaps in the cinematic market that big-budget studios would typically dominate and for audiences to support their films in cinemas free of crossing any picket lines.
Aesthetically and narratively, Talk to Me is influenced by some of the most prominent horror features from the last decade. The kind of possession the spirits use via the hand feels reminiscent of James Wan’s Insidious (2010), which similarly showed a hellish representation of a young boy’s experience on the other side when possessed by a paranormal entity. Talk to Me twists the canonical visions shown to the protagonists in Insidious by introducing a notion of uncertainty surrounding what truly happened by calling into question the validity of visions that could be altered or fabricated by the entity that is showing them.
Additionally, Talk to Me feels aesthetically comparable to Hereditary through its focus on light and shadow, playing on the shared fear of what could be lurking in the dark. Aster’s influence also extends to the gore that features in Talk to Me, with practical effects and prosthetics aiding in entirely gruesome outcomes for its characters, similar to Aster’s penchant for sudden face-smashing in both Hereditary and Midsommar (2019).
Talk to Me is a viewing experience that does not let go, taking you by the hand as it walks you through its characters’ descent from social media clout-chasers to remorseful shells of what once was. With the backing of A24 and RackaRacka’s online community behind it, Talk to Me has been able to transcend its underdog beginnings and become an unlikely favourite this summer, especially considering its release date landing only one week after both Barbie (2023) and Oppenheimer (2023). The film is refreshing, putting a new spin on long-standing tropes and narratives, making it a suitable entry for the current social and cinematic climate.
Talk to Me is in cinemas now.
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