Talk To Me Is Almost the Perfect Horror Franchise Starter

YouTube directors RackaRacka have created a thoroughly modern horror film playing the Sundance Film Festival.

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A girl bathed in red
Mia (Sophie Wilde) in the horror film, Talk to Me.
Image: Sundance

Social media and peer pressure can be powerful tools in modern society and both play a huge, horrifying role in the super smart and scary new film Talk to Me. Directed by YouTubers RackaRacka (real names Danny and Michael Philippou), this Australian horror film follows a group of friends who meet up to try this new, viral stunt: letting a spirit from beyond the grave possess you for a few minutes. The kids find it funny and maybe a tiny bit freaky, but surely nothing could go wrong, right?

Beginning things with an impressive long take through a busy house party that ends with a jaw-dropper of a reveal, Talk To Me pulls no punches. When it’s good, scary, and violent, it’s very good, very scary, and very violent. In those moments, you watch it and feel like maybe, just maybe, you’re watching one of the next great horror franchise being born. The potential is that strong. However, as the film goes on, its tight, tense, clever premise gets a little murky and the third act can’t meet the intensity of all that came before it. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of horror, there’s more to like than not.

Mia (Sophie Wilde) is a young teenager with a complicated family life. She lost her mom under curious circumstances, doesn’t talk to her dad much, and spends most of her time with her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), Jade’s brother Riley (Joe Bird), and their mom, Sue (Lord of the Rings’ Miranda Otto). One night, Mia and the siblings go to a party hoping to try out this new viral sensation all their friends are posting about. You grab this weird, creepy, disembodied hand, and it lets a random spirit into your body. At first, Mia doesn’t believe it’s real, but when she tries it, she becomes obsessed with it, and in the days that follow, everyone else wants to give it a shot too. Maybe even some people who shouldn’t.

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At the start, Talk To Me keeps us engaged and guessing by setting up very defined, interesting rules about the ritual along with some teases about its overall implications. The movie has an authentically youthful energy, thanks to its camera work, music, and simple but effective design choices. As each teen tries the hand, we see wildly different, wildly weird, and sometimes downright horrifying results. For the characters as well as the audience, the randomness is the fun of it. That is, until, one session goes very, very wrong and the fallout forces everyone to deal with some disturbing real-life implications.

That crucial incident and everything leading up to it are the film’s highlights, but unfortunately, things never quite get back to that level. For the rest of the film, the rules and logic behind the game get a little muddy as the spirits begin to show up in other places besides parties and during rituals. And while the movie never does these things for no reason or without explanation, once there the rules get thrown out and the scares are more random, much of the innovation and fun is lost.

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Even after things get turned down a notch though, there are still a good number of big, creepy moments and surprises. Wilde’s performance in particular, as a girl wracked with guilt and fear who finds herself getting deeper and deeper into something she can’t understand, is very impressive and gives the film a needed cohesion. Then, by the end, there’s little doubt you’d watch more of this story and explore additional ways the idea can be utilized. You just wish that the super clever, creepy premise would’ve been less of a springboard and more of the overall point.

Talk To Me is currently playing at the Sundance Film Festival and will be playing more festivals in the months ahead. A24 picked up the rights so be on the look out for a wider release later this year.

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