A24 has a solid track record with directorial debuts and that continues with Talk to Me, a visceral and unnerving look into grief and how far someone will go to not let go of the past. Directed and written by twin brothers Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou, the opening to the SXSW 2023 Midnighters program is the most stressful and immersive time I’ve spent in a theater in a long while.
Talk To Me‘s title comes from the game a group of teens play in the film. They light a candle to open a door, hold an embalmed hand, speak the words “Talk to me” to summon a spirit, and then invite it in. As the spirit takes hold of their body, the unpredictable nature of possession can be terrifying, funny, or exhilarating. But regardless, it’s a high that they chase. But with a 90-second timer the only thing allowing them to return the spirit to where they came from, there is a lot that can go wrong. Mia, our main character, is grieving her mom, and the pull of talking to the dead is something that she just can’t escape. Propelled by her grief, she goes too far and unleashes terrifying supernatural forces that impact her and every person she holds close.
Talk to Me shows you the ride you’re in for in the opening. With a brutal sibling exchange and an almost chaotic dread, the Philippou brothers don’t waste any time throwing you into the deep end of the pool, and not once do they ever decide to come to save you. The reason I mention the opening of the film isn’t just because of how wonderfully terrifying it is on its own, but because it hovers over the rest of the film, the violent end everything seems to be rushing to. You know where the spiral of grief and playing with forces you can’t control is leading, they’ve shown you and yet, you have to watch it unfold and sit helplessly as small glimpses of hope dissolve one by one.
The Philippous don’t make social media and short-form video the crux of their film, but rather, the way in which every character is pulled into this “game.” It spreads and the need to experience it leaves the teens knocking on countless doors until something decides to not leave.
While Talk to Me is a feat of terrifying bleakness and stress thanks to its writing, its cinematography, and directing, the film would be nothing without its lead, Sophie Wilde, as Mia. Wilde is fantastic because she is able to oscillate through the bevy of emotions we see in the film at any given time. She is vulnerable. She is scared. She is caring, and then she is also frightening and dangerous. Her performance is nothing short of iconic, and the range she displays in just one role is stunning. From belting out a song in the car to screeching in pain and anger, Wilde acts with every part of her body and self. While some films would have resolved grief through the dead, Talk To Me offers another resolution, becoming consumed by it all. In that bleakness is where it finds its beauty and its terror.
Talk to Me is yet another perfect film in A24’s roster, and I can’t wait for it to become necessary watching for those who love the horror genre. The film is brutal, stressful, terrifying, and somehow in all of it, exquisitely heartbreaking. The pain throughout the film isn’t just because something is going bump in the night, but because we are watching a child grieve a parent she so desperately needs in her life. I can’t wait to see what Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou do next.
Talk to Me screened at SXSW Film & TV Festival 2023 as a part of the Midnighters programming.
Talk To Me
- Rating - 10/1010/10
Talk to Me is yet another perfect film in A24’s roster, and I can’t wait for it to become necessary watching for those who love the horror genre. The film is brutal, stressful, terrifying, and somehow in all of it, exquisitely heartbreaking.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.