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  • Writer's pictureRob Binns

Talk to Me (2023) Review and Summary

"He's behind you".

Caution! This Talk to Me 2023 review contains spoilers. Proceed at your own peril!

Here it is: the long-awaited horror from South Australian duo Michael and Danny Philippou (better known, collectively, as iconic YouTube duo RackaRacka), about a bunch of randy Aussie teens who get their hands on a hand that serves as a conduit to the world beyond.

I love a good Aussie horror. Being based here in Melbourne – just an hour and twenty minutes’ plane journey from Adelaide, where the action here is set – it’s awesome to see the industry thrive. Between Wolf Creek (2005), Cargo (2017), Relic (2020), and – of course – The Babadook (2014), Australian filmmakers have been churning out consistently good genre fare for a while now. Heck, I’ll even through the bin fire zombie flick that was 2003’s Undead onto that pile – if for nostalgia’s sake alone.

But Talk to Me is more than just a good Aussie horror. It’s a good. Aussie. Horror.

Real good.

We open up with a hell of an opening scene, too – a dude, jostling his way through a party, looking for his brother. The guy (Cole, played by Ari McCarthy) soon finds his brother "Ducky" Duckett, who’s locked himself in a room, muttering away incoherently – pupils enlarged, in an obvious parody of drug use, until they completely blot out the whites of his eyes. The kid has cuts all over his back, as if he’s been self-flagellating. As Cole tries to smuggle Ducky out of the party – and away from the prying eyes and iPhone cameras of the other guests – the kid stabs his brother in front of a whole kitchen of people. Then, as the crowd either flees or watches on in stunned silence, he turns the knife on himself, stabbing himself right in the face and dying.

In the next few scenes, we’re introduced to our cast of characters. There’s Mia (Sophie Wilde), still reeling from her mum’s recent suicide. There’s also Mia's best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), her little brother Riley (Joe Bird), and their mum Sue (Miranda Otto) – a family Mia has adopted as her own as she struggles to reconnect with her dad Max (Marcus Johnson) – and Riley’s best mate James (James Oliver; not the chef!).

RackaRacka set this up perfectly, with a sweet scene in which Mia, driving Riley home, does a nice bit of karaoke with her de facto kid brother – singing along to, of course, fellow Aussie Sia’s hit Chandelier. But of course, this movie doesn’t have too much time for niceness – and before long, they’ve inadvertently hit and maimed a kangaroo that’s wandered into the road. With neither able to put the venerable marsupial down and out of its misery, they drive on in shame and disgust – a brief tableau that, thematically, sets the tone for what’s next.

We’re soon fed ominous dribs and foreshadowing drabs, via TikTok videos, of the ‘hand’ phenomenon (which we saw with the party-going knife wielder, Ducky) taking place – brief reels of kids with enlarged eyes gazing up wildly into the camera, in a kind of hypnotic trance. We learn it’s been two years since Mia’s mum took her own life – and that Jade’s boyfriend, Daniel (Otis Dhanji) used to date Mia.

Mia, Jade, and Daniel all end up at a party, where we get a first look at the hand. Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Joss (Chris Alosio) have come into possession – no pun, haha, intended – of the hand, and lay out the ground rules for us.

  1. Grasp the hand, as if shaking it

  2. Say “Talk to me”

  3. A spirit appears to you

  4. Say “Let me in”

  5. Become possessed, but with a crucial caveat…

If you’re caught making the hand’s acquaintance for more than 90 seconds, the spirit inside you stays with you. Like the ghosts of the Insidious franchise, these beings from the beyond don’t love it there. They want another shot at life, and – if you give them a window, and leave it ajar for too long – they’ll get it.

Mia takes her turn and, no sooner than she’s uttered those three eponymous words, the decayed visage of an old man appears before her. This works as a brilliantly executed jump scare, though it’s worth mentioning that the film never relies on them. This is no The Conjuring, nor does Talk to Me rely on any of the cheap tricks that series serves up in spades. The Philippou brothers may be fairly new to the big screen game, but they know what’s scary – and as we watch the film’s catalysing event unfold, they prove it.

Mia lurches around in the throes of possession, but of course ends up holding onto it for longer than 90 seconds. As all this is going on – as Mia sits lolling in her chair in the grip of unseen forces, gurgling and cackling – the onlookers laugh and jeer and point.

This part is almost more horrible than the possession itself: this visceral reminder of how cruel teenagers of that age can be, particularly in an era where iPhones and social media platforms act as amplifiers of spite and meanness, and exacerbate the worst of the human tendency to venomise and vilify.

During her trance, with everyone filming, Mia fixates on Riley – uttering quite-frankly-terrifying phrases like “He’s behind you” and “He’ll split ya!” Riley is clearly shaken up.

Anyways, Mia awakes out of the trance as if out of an intoxicating, drug-induced haze, though – and the room applauds. She claims that while under the influence she could see, and hear, and feel everything.

It’s as if no harm has been done; we, the audience, suspect otherwise.

Mia slouches sideways on a chair in the throes of demonic possession, in an iconic scene from Talk to Me 2023

Mia, mid-trance, in an already iconic image.

The hand, incidentally, is a fun thing. We’re told it’s the severed hand of a satanist, or a witch who could speak to the dead – either way, it’s been wrapped up, a la a broken leg, in plaster cast and signed by the litany of hands who’ve grabbed it before.

Mia grasps the satanic hand from Talk to Me 2023

Pleased to meet ya!

Later that night, Riley – still petrified – sleeps alongside Mia on the sofa bed in his living room. Things seem fine, and back to normal. The pair exchange nightmares, with Mia talking about one in which she looks into the mirror and sees no reflection staring back at her. Riley falls asleep watching a video, and Mia reaches over to gently, caringly remove his AirPods. Then we see a hand reach over that doesn’t look like hers – gnarled, with long ragged fingernails and a bloodied complexion – and again assume that, for this group of Adelaide mates, the worst is yet to come.

It is, and it doesn’t take us long to get there. The gang gets together the next night for more hand hijinks, and here’s where things really escalate. Daniel tries the hand, and ends up making out with Jade’s dog. Then, we get a brief montage in which the whole room – bar Riley and James – get a turn. This causes some consternation among the younger boys (well, mainly Riley, who’s particularly desperate for a turn). Although his older sister Jade is understandably reluctant for her kid brother to try it – prompting a tense, well acted, and starkly realistic exchange between the siblings. Mia persuades her to let him have a go.

It proves a disastrous decision.

As soon as Riley says the three words, his reaction – and soon, Mia’s reaction – tells us almost immediately that he’s communicating with Mia’s mum.

Riley grasps the hand from Talk to Me 2023

Riley's turn with the hand takes a fateful turn.

Here’s where Mia’s decision-making goes from bad to worse. So desperate to continue communicating, via Riley, with her mother, the boy ends up going over his 90-second time limit. He starts bashing his head on the table, repeatedly, in a horrifying, extended episode of self-mutilation. Talk to Me never uses gore as a crutch (there's no Braindead (1992)-esque showers of blood and viscera), and in fact it’s used only fleetingly. But when it is, it’s used to sobering effect – and it’s usually this kid Riley copping the brunt.

Riley survives and later, at the hospital, it becomes clear that whichever spirit talked to Mia is still hanging around. She hears strange growling from behind a toilet door, and it’s obvious she’s seeing things; that these shadowy spectres from the other realm have, somehow, become attached to her, and peer ominously from behind panes of frosted glass.

With Jade and Sue at the hospital with Riley, Daniel drives Mia home. She doesn’t want to go home, though – so she ends up staying at his place. A bit of flirting takes place, but it becomes clear that – although there’s potentially some lingering romantic feeling – nothing’s going to happen. (Daniel gets described by someone earlier in the movie as being “Ultra-Christian”, anyway. Still, that won’t Jade finding out about this later, to manufacture a bit of tension as the plot sharpens to a knife point.)

They fall asleep next to each other – sort of snuggling, but not in a sexual way – before a seamless segue into a dream sequence, where scenes depicting the two are necking off passionately (albeit disconnected from actual reality) are intercut with shots of Mia’s mum, post-suicide, slumped against the door in the hallway. A creepy song starts up (this was great fun in the theatre; the sound started up at the auditorium’s left hand side, swinging round to produce a disorienting, dread-inducing effect), and we become aware of a sinister presence lurking in a darkened corner of Daniel’s bedroom.

It’s one of the spirits from the other side – though perhaps ‘spirit’ is the wrong word. They’re more like walking corpses in various stages of decomposition: faces bulbous, eyes filmy and cataract-ridden, a vaguely viscous goo matting their hair and seeping through the ravines and rivulets of their skin.

Mia can only watch in terror as the dead thing crawls over to the bed and begins sucking on a sleeping Daniel’s toes. It’s a neat scene that serves up a little off-the-wall humour and slapstick grotesquery as an accoutrement to the obvious horror of it. As Mia screams and Daniel wakes up, we’re presented with a new version of events – that it was actually Mia, and not some third-party paranormal presence, in charge of the foot gobbling. The film is setting Mia up as the classic ‘unreliable narrator’ – leaving the audience with big question marks around how much of what she (and, by proxy, us) is seeing is real, and what’s dictated by her new circle of undead mates.

This uncertainty is underscored, soon, in which Mia communicates directly with the spirit of her undead mum. Mia asks the obvious question – ”did you really kill yourself?” – to which her mum replies no, that it was an accident. We have doubts, but – despite the aforementioned decomposing nature of the spirits, and their overall evil aesthetic – we still don’t have any specific reason to suspect Mia’s undead mum wishes her any harm. Yet.

Mia's zombified mum talks to her as Mia sheds tears in Talk to Me 2023

"Simpson! Mind if I chew your ear?"

Back at the hospital, we still can’t really tell if Riley is possessed, given he remains in a largely unconscious state – and that his face is so badly swollen from the bashing that we don’t have any visual signs that he’s under any supernatural influence.

Oh – wait – no, here it is. He bites Jade and himself a few times, before we’re treated to a gnarly scene in which he, again, mauls his own face against the floor of the shower as blood swirls into the drain. Jade looks on, powerless and traumatised. As The Guardian’s Mark Kermode put it in his Talk to Me review, Talk to Me’s portrayal of possession does borrow heavily from the Deadites of The Evil Dead series, and we see these antecedents no clearer than in this scene as Riley, chuckling and cackling into the lens of the camera, slides deeper into the throes of possession. Through Riley’s words, we also learn of the final rule relating to the hand, and all those who grasp it and let in the spirits it can speak to: that if you die while they’re in you, they get you forever. Poor Ducky.

Speaking of him, the others – Hayley, Daniel, Jade, and Joss – have tracked down Ducky’s older brother Cole, who we saw getting stabbed in the film’s opening scene at that party. In the conversation that ensues, Cole paints a sad story of his brother’s involvement with the hand. And says that a “real friend would’ve seen it was fucking him up.” Again, the parallels the film draws with drug use and its effects on people – especially young people – are thinly veiled; but no less apt for it.

Joss stares skyward in the grip of the hand's demonic possession in Talk to Me 2023

Kiwi actor Chris Alosio plays Joss with a nuance and moral ambiguity.

They get to the Mawson Interchange, and Mia shows up. To save Riley, she suggests redoing the ritual, given they never properly ‘closed it off’ by blowing out the candle lit at the ritual’s outset. (The seance in Brooklyn 45 (2023) operated with similar ground rules.)

Back at the hospital, Mia – now in possession of the hand – re-opens the ritual. Through the nightmarish flashes that follow, the film paints a picture of what Riley’s current ‘limbo’ might be like. It’s sort of a big, orgy-like mass of bodies, writhing and groaning, in a sequence that only superficially (if at all) masks its aesthetic and thematic linkage to that scene in Society (1989). It’s less the effects that jar and unsettle us here, though, but the way in which Talk to Me presents a terrifying, nihilistic view of the afterlife: and the ultimate fate of everyone who know, love, and hold dearest. Yeesh.

The ritual doesn’t work, and we’re back at Mia’s place. Her dad reveals that has, all along, been hiding something: and finally decides to show Mia the suicide note her mother left. Mia, believing that she’s communicating with the real spirit of her mum (who by now is lurking in the background of basically every scene Mia is in, chewing the scenery and doing her best impression of Griffin Dunne's slowly rotting Jack in American Werewolf in London (1981)) isn’t having a bar of it. It doesn’t help that the spirit is in the room with them, with the mum-ghost uttering “it’s not true”, and telling Mia that Riley – in a throwback to the kangaroo scene from the movie’s opening moments – needs to be put out of his misery. She’s a hideous, zombie-like creature, condoning some seriously horrible actions. But Mia’s undead mum is still – obviously, irrefutably, ineffably – human.

These elements all add up to produce an unsettling, truly chilling, piece of storytelling.

It’s an incredibly gut wrenching and heartbreaking scene, and both Wilde and Johnson act the hell out of it. It’s also the first meaningful interaction between we’ve had between father and daughter this whole time – and the film is all the more rich and textured for it.

But back to what we’re here for – the horror! Which means Max was never long for this world. Mia – her reality warped and fabricated by her mum’s zombified visage – ends up inadvertently stabbing her dad in the neck. From the way the blood comes out in little spurts, fortunes for the old chap ain’t looking good.

Mia calls Jade, whose Crazy Frog ring tone – which we heard earlier in the movie – goes off. It’s a nice little callback, even in a small way, to earlier events; reminding us of how much has happened since then – what the hand has taken from this group of young adults, and the innocence lost along the way. For us, Talk To Me is so good that it flies by; but for the kids it follows, the events of the start of the film surely feel like a lifetime ago.

Over the phone, Mia lures Jade to her place, but – as Jade’s car pulls out of the hospital parking lot – we see Mia already there. Killing her dad has pushed her over the edge, and as she walks to Riley’s bedside, we know what she’s there to do. There’s a sweet, final exchange between Mia and Sue, who apologises for an earlier outburst in which she blamed Mia for Riley’s injuries. She forgives Mia for her earlier involvement: a poignant scene made more so by the fact that we, unlike Sue, are aware of Mia’s horrific intentions. The camera lingers over Riley’s self-inflicted bite marks; Mia asks for a moment alone with Riley.

Here, as Sue leaves the room, the scene transforms into Mia’s view of events: transforming the scene, through the prism of her perspective, for our eyes. Suddenly, it’s no longer Riley in bed, but a decrepit old woman. “You can’t take him,” she snarls, with an evil glint in her eye. “He’s ours!” Mia is clearly not in a good way. She’s having visions: Kafkaesque tableaus of the kangaroo from the beginning, and bloody trails leading through the hospital’s hallways.

In the real world, she raises a pair of scissors above Riley’s head, preparing to swing them down and end his misery. But she can’t do it. She loves him too much; there's still a human knocking around in there with all the other, less human, bits and bobs.

Meanwhile, Jade has arrived at Mia’s, and struck upon the scene of Max, who’s evidently lost a lot of blood but is hanging in there. She alerts her mum – who’d stepped out for a snack – that Mia is dangerous. Sue rushes back to Riley’s room, but both he – and Mia – have gone.

From here, things happen very fast. Mia has bundled Riley into a wheelchair, and pushed him to a steep grassy slope, above which a highway roars past. Her undead mum is in her ear this whole time, delivering a chilling missive – to end Riley’s life, and bequeath his immortal soul to the dead. Jade and Sue have caught up with her, but it looks like they’re too late: Mia has made up her mind, and it looks like curtains for Riley.

Suddenly, the camera switches to the POV of a couple driving a car on the highway as something lands in front of them. They try to swerve, strike it, and the airbags blow up.

As the camera pans out, we get a better look at the devastation. Riley sits in the wheelchair, safe, at the side of the highway alongside his mother and sister. Mia stands, seemingly unharmed, in the middle of the road – although this movie has taught us enough so far not to expect a happy ending. And, after the scene immediately cuts to Mia standing, alone, in the hospital, we get the strong sense that we’re not getting one.

She’s dead, we guess, and has joined the apparent legion of walking corpses in the hellish hereafter the movie’s been exposing us to. As she walks the hospital, Mia sees her dad, but he has his back to her and is walking away.

Mia sees Riley, Sue, Jade: but can’t speak to or communicate with any of them. She turns to a mirror, and in another hearkening back to an earlier scene, in which Mia described a recurring nightmare, she has no reflection. Lights slowly blink out, and Mia is left in darkness. It feels a sad, if appropriate, place to leave our protagonist as the story comes to a close – wandering around in a literal darkness to match the metaphorical variety she’s been immersed in since her mother’s suicide; a lack of light characterised by guilt, shame, regret, grief, and the inability to admit to herself, and the world, that her mother really did take her own life. As the film closes she’s desperate for someone to talk to her. Anyone.

But the film’s not over yet! A candle flickers, a hand emerges from the darkness, and Mia, grasping it, appears before a bunch of French people, who are now in possession of the hand. The grasper, evidently shocked at Mia’s post-life apparition before him, says “let me in” – and we cut to black.

Wow. All in all, I loved this film. It combined slow-building suspense with the odd shocking scene that – although working as jump scares in their own right – never felt as contrived as they do in, say, The Nun (2018), or Malum (2023).

Talk to Me also has some interesting things to say about social media, friendship, and mental health – with even the film’s title a clear play on the need for supportive spaces where young people can open up and share their feelings. The Philippou brothers embrace the complexity of character and narrative, while still spinning an entertaining, powerfully written, and well-acted yarn imbued with the kinetic, chaotic energy of their YouTube material; but, perhaps, with a great deal more maturity and magnetism thrown in.

This one’s not to be missed. Go check it out!

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