LSF 2023: ‘Talk to Me’ Review: Unsettling Aussie Horror

There is a dangerous new fad circulating teen parties in Adelaide. A strange hand allows people to see and speak to the Dead and if they utter a certain phrase they shall be briefly inhabited by the spirit, to the amusement of the rest of the party. But a session goes too far when a young boy is dominated by a destructive spirit. Fearing he is lost and rapidly losing her own grip on reality, fellow teen Mia must delve deeper and discover the truth behind the party trick. 

The hand is a good analogy for dangerous party drugs. Users are under immense peer pressure to have out-of-body experiences as a bonding experience and as a spectacle for the ‘dealers’. The experience of being possessed is a rush to the user and with repeated use offers an escape. Once the boy has his bad trip the heartbreak is amplified for his mother (Miranda Otto) who must endure the added mystery of her child’s fate which she eventually attributes to a psychotic break. The generational divide between the teens and those who love them is made horribly palpable.  

For Mia, she’s motivated to try using the hand by jealousy. She is also coping with the grief of losing her mother, a possible suicide, and her relationship with her surrogate family is threatened when her best friend starts dating her ex. As the spirits begin to manifest and the situation escalates out of her control she becomes more and more drawn to her own illusion of her mother, a distorted yet comforting spectre. Her actions become tragically desperate as she attempts to claw back what she’s lost. 

Sophie Wilde is excellent in the lead role. Her mistakes are horrifying but always understandable. As the character risks breaking sympathy as she becomes more desperate for a connection with her dead mother and more harmful to those around her, like any addict. But Wilde keeps the character grounded in an emotionally resonant performance. Her character’s memorable fate feels inevitable. 

The horror of the film comes in the form of unsettling imagery associated with the dead and spirit world. Frightening half seen spectres and haunting ghost designs recall the subtle but affecting horror of It Follows. The film succeeds in creating a terrifying uncertainty to the supernatural elements that recall The Wailing or Oculus. The rules are very simple but offer a sense of hopelessness as the inevitable transgressions occur. 

Technically the film is as glossy as you’d expect from such a production with menacing lighting full of shadows and strange transitions and a rich sound design that makes you feel every scratch and thud. It’s not the most original production design for a horror movie but effectively sets the stage for the gruesome proceedings. When the teens start indulging in the psycho-social experiments, the conventions of horror movie assures us that they are doomed. But Talk to Me is excels in it’s sense of morbid fatalism. 

Four Stars

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