From making small talk to the audacity of having to remember the names of people you meet, parties were designed by Satan. “Talk to Me” totally gets it. Only bad, evil things happen when more than 3 people are in a room together. That’s definitely in the bible, maybe like the 13th commandment.
This thoroughly unnerving Australian gem is lean and mean, forgoing boring exposition for nasty terror. With a story that hinges on self-harm and some spectacularly upsetting gross sequences, “Talk to Me” may be too brutal for some. That being said, those looking for a horror movie with teeth that clamp down and won’t release without taking flesh with them are in for a hell of a treat.
Mia (Sophie Wilde) is a troubled teen struggling with the fact her mother may have died by suicide. Her father is distant, so she leans on friends that are more like family. Jayden (Jayden Davison) and her brother, Riley (Joe Bird), wind up going with Mia to a party that features a “fun” game of demonic possession. Because, and this is key to remember, nothing good has ever happened at a party.
The way it works is you hold a weird sculpture of a hand and say “talk to me.” Then a spirit appears. Then you say “I invite you in.” Then for 90 seconds, and no more than 90 seconds, a soul puppeteers your body like Geppetto with worse intentions. Do you think maybe someone goes over 90 seconds? Do you think maybe bad things happen because of that?
“Talk to Me” isn’t about overly clever twists, turns, and surprises. It just looks at you and says “This is going to be ugly and bad and end ugly and bad” and then goes ugly and bad and ends ugly and bad. It helps that Wilde is spectacular, channeling an Eartha Kitt voice and a sincerity in her mental anguish. Directors Danny and Michael Philippou get a host of quality performances, including Bird, who makes Riley likeable enough to make putting the “little brother” in danger feel like high stakes. Remember kids, don’t go to parties.
With almost no jump scares, “Talk to Me” opts for “uncomfortable” over “gotcha.” It tells you when it is going to be terrifying, giving an explicit countdown, which is its own kind of spooky fun. It also doesn’t fall into a trap of trying to say too much thematically. It’s not a meditation on grief so much as a literal exploration of the collateral damage associated with suicide. Most commendably, it doesn’t get bogged down in explanations of how things work or some big overarching evil malice at work. “If there are ghosts, we probably shouldn’t TikTok them possessing us” is a simplistic but alarmingly sufficient argument.
Good horror movies make you squirm in your seat. Great horror movies make you squirm trying to sleep later that night. The best horror movies make you squirm out of nowhere for days. Part “Hereditary” and part “Drag Me to Hell,” “Talk to Me” is franchise-worthy and nearly flawless. See it instead of going to that party you were invited to.
Grade = A
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Kshitij Rawat at Wion says “The film’s unsettling atmosphere and uncanny visuals will leave you on edge throughout, and its clever, sparing use of effects adds to the authenticity of the supernatural stuff. This film will not just scare you, it will chill you to the bone.”
Sarah Michelle Fetters at MovieFreak.com says “The first hour of the picture is some of the best horror filmmaking I’ve seen in ages, and a few of the key set pieces are petrifying in their relentlessness.”
Michelle Kisner at The Movie Sleuth says “‘Talk to Me’ doesn’t pull any punches and harbors a mean streak that follows through all the way to the ending.”