Talk to the Hand: A Talk to Me Review
by Aliena Abernathy
Photo: Still from Talk to Me (dir. Michael and Danny Philippou
Talk to Me is the debut feature from Australian Youtubers-turned-filmmakers Michael and Danny Philippou, and for a movie about a hand that communes with the dead, it is only fitting that this film holds your hand all the way through. While the duo’s debut delves into more serious themes than their previous online works, they still suffer from the pitfall of copying tired tropes that the horror genre has already started to shake off, as seen in successes like 2022’s Nope and 2019’s Midsommar. There are demonic children, party games turned into bloodbaths, and oh boy, are there senseless teenagers a-plenty.
The film follows Mia (Sophie Wilde) as she lives in the wake of her mother’s (Alexandria Steffensen) suicide. Feeling alienated from her father, she interjects herself into the lives of Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Riley (Joe Bird) who allow Mia to live with them as she processes her trauma. Mia is unable to find peace until she is introduced, under the guise of a viral party trick, to a means by which spirits can possess her for short periods of time by grabbing onto an embalmed hand.
The film lacks any sense of relatability beyond its first act as the viewer is unable to empathize with the sheer amount of off-handed stupidity on display as the characters allow vengeful and violent spirits to take control of all their functions countless times over, and then act entirely shocked when someone ends up brutalized and hospitalized. As a result of this, the viewer has trouble feeling scared for the otherwise horrific situations that the characters are placed in and are more likely to yell at the screen as common-sense solutions are abandoned for schemes that could only ever make their predicament far worse.
Photo: Theatrical release poster for Talk to Me (dir. Michael and Danny Phillipou) Credit: A24
In spite of the tired script, the performances in the film are a delightful highlight as relatively unknown actors give some genuine career-defining acts. Of note are Wilde and Bird as Mia and Riley respectively. Mia takes on a surrogate sister role to the pre-teen Riley, and the familial chemistry between the two makes for displays of genuine fun and relatability early in the film which made me dread about what their fates might be as the plot progressed. The actors accomplish all of this before even the slightest hint of horror is introduced into the story. Even later on, as the film falls deeper into its tropey nature, Wilde manages to elevate the material to a whole new level. When her character delves further and further into her obsession with demonic possession, so too does Wilde display mannerisms akin to those of a drug addict too deep into their sickness to differentiate reality from hallucination, the effects of which are tearfully felt by those closest to her. Though not single-handedly carried by Wilde, the brilliant acting on display is what makes the film’s allegories work, and what makes me believe that the writers have genuine talent buried under the crutches of cliché.
Not every horror element is executed without grace either. The practical makeup utilized in the film, in contrast to the more popular CGI gore seen in other modern horror movies, works hand-in-hand with the direction to create grotesque body horror that will have viewers gasping and cringing through their fingers. Despite the periodic showcases of technical skill, nothing in the film is quite able to achieve the consistent quality that would allow a viewer to become immersed enough for the film’s brand of horror to be effective. In fact, at other times the situations lend themselves more to comedy than fear, with particular note to a scene involving a possessed Mia and a foot obsessed spirit.
Although Talk to Me avoids being offensive to viewers due to its hour-and-a-half runtime, it's best enjoyed when poking fun at the characters' slew of increasingly dumbfounding decisions, rather than taking the filmmakers' attempts at horror seriously. For fans of the film, however, there is already a prequel and a sequel in the works (only two months after worldwide release) by the same directing duo. While Talk to Me has plenty of aspects that could be expanded on to create more enjoyable subsequent films, I won’t be forcing my hand to hold out hope.