Talk To Me review: A mighty dose of relentless teen horror
Catch Me If You’ve Heard This One: A group of high school kids get their hands on a cursed occult object, and after some fun and games, they end up being terrorized by a presence on the other side. This is not the most original premise. But in Talk to me – the directorial debut of brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, best known for their YouTube channel – it takes on a new urgency and ferocity with a story that rushes relentlessly to its bloody and brutal conclusion.
The occult object in question is an embalmed hand believed to have the power to let people see and be possessed by the spirits of the dead. The process is simple: you grab hold of the hand, say “speak to me” to summon a random specter, then say “I’ll let you in” to invite them to inhabit your body. It’s scary and easy to repeat, making it the perfect thing for viral video fame. Suddenly, high school students in Australia are watching videos of what appear to be possessions, sometimes ending in a blood spatter. Of course, it’s just a hoax, isn’t it?
Mia (Sophie Wilde) first feels the effects of the ritual at a party, and she becomes instantly hooked. Possession, it seems, is as addictive as a drug – especially for teenagers going through a rough patch, where being a bit out of body is a welcome change. Meet Mia, mourning the loss of her mother and clinging desperately to her friends Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Riley (Joe Bird) to stave off loneliness. Shortly after her first experience, she tries again and, despite objections, lets Riley participate as well.
An important part of the ritual is timing. Let the spirit stay too long and it won’t want to leave. Her inability to stop coming back for more possessions, combined with this very strict rule, ends up leaving Mia haunted by terrifying visions, as she also tries to save her friend from a living nightmare.
What follows is a fairly standard ghost story, but elevated with urgency and brutality. Seriously, when bad things happen in this movie, they’re really bad – “I had to look away from the screen” bad. Possessed children who bully each other, terrifying visions of the afterlife, and deaths that, even when you see them coming, are so violent you can’t help but wince. Perhaps that’s to be expected from a movie helmed by the owners of a YouTube channel full of gory, gory videos. But the Philippou brothers showed remarkable restraint in Talk to me. There’s more to violence than pure shock value; it punctuates the story which, once launched, advances at an incessant pace. The twists aren’t necessarily so surprising, in retrospect, but they come to you so quickly that you feel like you barely have a minute to catch your breath.
If nothing else, Talk to me is a surprisingly competent debut – and not at all what I expected from a horror film directed by YouTube stars. maybe it’s a movie on viral videos – but the movie itself is much more than a long YouTube skit.