Horror Film Delivers Chilling, Unnerving Scares [SXSW]

Mar 25, 2023

Talk to Me takes the living’s relationship with the dead and dials it up to 100. Directed by Michael Philippou and Danny Philippou, who co-wrote the screenplay with Bill Hinzman from a concept by Daley Pearson, the horror film is packed with intense scares and an unsettling feeling that lingers even after the story concludes. The Philippou’s directorial debut is electrifying, intense, and terrifying. The film isn’t simply concerned with jump scares, and its horror settles deep into the bones, a disquiet that ultimately rattles the nerves.

It’s been two years since the death of Mia’s (Sophie Wilde) mother Rhea. Mia is still coming to grips with the circumstances of Rhea’s death, but she has a good support system that includes best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), her younger brother Riley (Joe Bird), and mother Sue (Miranda Otto). When the trio attends a party that involves conjuring the spirits of the dead through an embalmed hand, Mia and her friends become addicted to the thrill of witnessing the spirits and allowing them to possess their bodies, inviting them in with the phrase, “Talk to me.” But things get dangerous and creepy when Mia starts seeing her dead mother after being possessed by another spirit for more than the time allowed.

Talk to Me is every bit about grief as it is about being haunted. To that end, the film explores loss and the empty space it leaves behind following the death of a loved one. Mia is not alright, and the thrill of seeking out the dead — regardless of how scary it can be — sounds exciting. It allows her to feel things beyond heartache; it even makes her feel alive. The film gently handles Mia’s feelings, affording her the space to delve into her grief, while also showcasing the consequences of everyone’s actions. By the time the film concludes, viewers will walk away astounded by what they’ve just witnessed. It’s treacherous, gruesome, and heartbreaking all at once.

The horror elements are powerful on every level. The lighting, cinematography, and the practical effects work in tandem to create bone-chilling moments that are terrifying and imposing. The idea that interacting with the dead can be intoxicating is explored throughout, especially as the teen characters realize it’s all fun and games until the consequences become too great to ignore. Sophie Wilde’s performance is superb, instilling Mia with a sense of fear, emotional distance, and a yearning to be close to her mother again. The circle of life and death abounds, culminating in an excellent final moment, and Wilde’s ability to balance all of Mia’s emotions and sympathetic actions underscore the tension and themes of the film.

Talk to Me doesn’t offer any easy answers, and this well-paced, gripping horror isn’t afraid to take risks, either. The film turns its focus on the connection between the living and the dead, and how the lines can be blurred, as well as how one can feel so lost and empty inside to the point that living feels like a chore. Mia’s grief permeates the film, and it is through her that Talk to Me explores this deep-rooted longing and the effects of loss on someone’s psyche. This is especially true when someone doesn’t have the answers or closure they crave, as is the case with Mia, who becomes susceptible to what the embalmed hand can offer.

While the horror film draws out some of its story in the middle, the final act ties everything together, leaving the audience with a final moment that is haunting and simultaneously electrifying. Talk to Me is an assured directorial debut, serving up plenty of terror, gore, and emotional beats in a story that is well-developed and carefully crafted. Audiences will be hooked to the screen, impatiently awaiting what comes next in this unsettling, thrilling horror.

Talk to Me premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival on March 12. The film is 94 minutes long and is not yet rated.

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