One of the lingering perks of having written Lovecraft Country is that I’ve ended up on production company A24’s list of People to Invite to Horror Movie Previews. Last year my wife and I got to attend a test screening of Alex Garland’s Men (Lisa liked it until it unexpectedly turned into a David Cronenberg film; I found the whole thing charmingly weird and laughed out loud at the eleventh-hour body horror). Then, a few weeks ago, I got an invite to an advance showing of Talk to Me, directed by Danny and Michael Phillipou. The screening was last night, and I went solo, as it was clear from the trailer that this wouldn’t be Lisa’s cup of tea. But I loved it.
Talk to Me asks the question, “What if, instead of binge-drinking or taking drugs, a bunch of Aussie teens decided to record themselves fucking around with a cursed artifact?” The artifact in question is the mummified hand of a psychic, and the way it works is this: You light a candle, grip the hand firmly, and say “Talk to me,” and a ghost that only you can see appears in front of you. Then you say “I let you in,” and the ghost takes possession of your body while your friends make a Tik-Tok video. Possession is allegedly safe, as long as you limit it to ninety seconds or less—before time runs out, you need to let go of the hand and blow out the candle, or the ghost might decide to stick around.
It’s a goofy-sounding premise that succeeds on the strength of the acting and the storytelling. The cast are all excellent—I particularly liked the two leads, Sophie Wilde and Alexandra Jensen, and Miranda Otto has a great turn as the badass mom who’s not quite badass enough to keep the kids from playing with dead people. Zoe Terakes, the designated Explainer of the Rules who cracks jokes during the possession sequences, is also a standout. As for the storytelling, what impressed me is how much I cared about the characters, even though they spend most of the movie being selfish, stupid assholes. It works because the kids aren’t evil, just believably adolescent.
I think this is one of those horror movies that’s worth seeing in a theater. Watching it with a crowd definitely added to the experience. And the film’s most shocking turn, when the kids finally realize just how dangerous the hand is, is enhanced by a bit of bone-crunching sound design that probably wouldn’t come through as well on typical TV speakers.
Talk to Me releases on July 28.