Grief is something that affects everybody, and we all feel it differently. It’s a painful process, one that takes years or even decades to cope with. Danny and Michael Phillipou‘s Talk to Me addresses grief in such a manner that it is terrifying. The film has a few underlying themes as well such as the roles of race and family. This is constructed as a horror film and by all means it is, but it is also a very good drama. Talk to Me is a well-thought-out and put-together film. There’s a lot to discuss beyond just the plot which is amazing considering the runtime.
Talk to Me follows Mia (Sophie Wilde), a young woman who just lost her mother to an accidental overdose. She is essentially living with her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), who also lives with her mother Sue (Miranda Otto), and little brother Riley (Joe Bird). Mia wants to follow a social media trend and play a game called Talk to Me. You touch a hand, say “Talk to me,” get possessed by a ghost for a few seconds, then let go of the hand. If you hold on too long, the ghost stays with you forever. As the film moves along, they continue to play the game.
The group first plays the game at Hayley’s (Zoe Terakes) house, Mia volunteers and we see how the game goes exactly. She’s terrified and opens up a door that leads to Riley getting hunted by ghosts. They play the game again at Jade’s house, and this is when it becomes more sinister. After being told no, by his sister, Riley begs Mia to let him play. She says yes, and is met with her mother. Which throws things completely off, and sends her along with father Max (Marcus Johnson), Riley, Jade, and Sue into chaos.
The Phillipou’s directorial debut is thrilling. Danny and Bill Hinzman wrote the script, and it’s well put together. The way Talk to Me flows, and keeps you on edge is great. There is an eerieness from the script, it creates fear and mixes it with grief. A true shot plus chaser situation. The directing is so well done too, The Phillipou’s get some great performances out of their cast. They understand the horror genre, and couple it with drama. There’s a certain balance to Talk to Me that will have you look at the film differently when it’s over with.
As somebody who lost a grandmother, aunt, uncle, and best friend all in the span of a few years, I felt Mia’s pain. She wanted answers, she wanted one last conversation, and she wanted to right a wrong. The second and third acts of Talk to Me should be studied in film school. There’s so much balance there, and it works so well. There is a lot to love about the film and a few things to dislike.
The different dynamics here are also fascinating, but also somewhat underplayed. While fear and grief are the main themes, there is the family/friendship dynamic that also folds into race. Mia is a young black girl, and she is met with plenty of microaggressions. Joss (Chris Alosio) is also black, and while it isn’t overstated there’s a moment in the film where you can see he’s afraid of going to jail. The racial themes are not loud, and in a way, are sort of mishandled. The microaggressions from Sue towards Mia and just how she treats her or “jokes” rubbed me the wrong way. There was a better way to handle it but it didn’t deter the story or the film, so I wasn’t too bothered by it.
The score by Cornel Wilczek is so good that it just blends in with the film. It’s everything that a horror score should be, eerie, creepy, making your skin crawl. I enjoyed it, and how it amped up during possession scenes. The soundtrack to Talk to Me featured artists from Australia, and showcased the country’s drill-influenced rap scene. The music helps make the film feel like more than a horror movie. It’s a great way to showcase Australia, and I enjoyed that aspect a lot.
I don’t like the term “elevated horror,” it feels pretentious and arrogant. But it can be a sub-genre that’s appreciated when the director(s) fully understand the genre itself. You can see that this is a horror film by all means, and it’s meshed with drama. Mia’s grief and heartbreak play such a major role in Talk to Me, that it most definitely elevates the whole film around it.
Grief is inescapable. It sits with you forever and eats at your heart. Grief is the true horror of Talk to Me. It makes Mia isolate herself from her father and look for a mother in Sue. Grief is what drives Mia to look for love in other places after her mother passes away, it is truly a villain for our protagonist and her friend group. Grief is ultimately what creates the tension in Talk to Me, making you feel many different feelings depending on your current life situation. It punched me in my gut, and immediately made me feel sad… and scared. This is new for me, and while I very much hate feeling sad, I appreciate Talk to Me for showing me that fear can come from grief and grief can come from fear. It is an eye-opener of a movie and just an overall amazing film.