Talk To Me review: tantalising teen horror

Sophie Wilde in Talk To Me.
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Teen horror Talk To Me is equal parts humorous and horrific, and a strong feature debut from Danny and Michael Philippou.

Since its debut at Sundance in January, Talk To Me has been building quite a reputation for itself. The new horror from Australian duo Danny and Michael Philippou has been terrifying audience after audience on the festival circuit. Many are touting Talk To Me as the scariest film of the year and an instant genre classic. On 28th July the film will finally arrive in cinemas across the UK for the general public to deliver their verdict. 

Talk To Me opens as it means to go on – strong. A violent tragedy at a house party asserts that it’s not going to give the viewer an easy ride. The Philippous are careful to not reveal the root cause of the brutal spurt of gore, creating instant intrigue, and horror, in equal measure. After this initial shot of adrenaline, the story shifts focus to Mia (Sophie Wilde) and her friends.

Still struggling to process the death of her mother years before, Mia is finding it tricky to maintain her friendship with BFF Jade (Alexandra Jensen). It is Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) that keeps the two connected, much to the chagrin of Jade. After Mia pays Jade a surprise visit, the three attend a local party at which attendees play a very twisted game… involving a severed hand.

This embalmed hand, coated in ceramics, has come into the possession of two of Mia’s classmates. Its origins are unknown; some say it’s the hand of a psychic, others claim it’s the hand of a Satanist.

Whatever its beginning, the result is that it allows a person to see and interact with the dead. The hand has become part of the group’s regular party routine, with its use being videoed and uploaded to the internet. Keen to prove that she is still the same fun-loving teen, Mia volunteers to interact with the hand, unknowingly setting in motion a traumatic sequence of events. The very first sequence with the hand is a masterclass in tension. Like Mia, the audience do not know what to expect, and the Philippou’s delight in their teasing.  

Sophie Wilde gives an incredibly layered performance as Mia. The teenager is a complex bundle of emotions and Wilde manages to navigate them all as if she has been doing this for years. In reality, this is her first feature film, and her natural talent shines. From Mia’s introduction to end, Wilde runs through a gauntlet of emotions from grief to glee, to fear and back again.

Each emotion is conveyed perfectly through Wilde’s hugely expressive eyes. As well as expertly communicating being scared, Wilde also demonstrates a strong aptitude for humour. Before reaching the really frightening part of the story, Talk To Me is full of comedic exchanges, and Wilde’s timing is so instinctive that chunks of interactions feel improvised.  

Humour is a key tool for horror directors and the Philippous wield it well. Much of the first hour is full of the teenagers laughing, joking, teasing one another and partying together. Even Jade’s mother, played by Miranda Otto, garners some laughs. Fully aware of her daughter’s fondness for partying, the character’s constant interrogations are hilarious, handily distracting the audience from the torment to come.

With so much bright, kinetic, and humourful energy, the viewer is put at ease. Even during the early interactions with the hand there is comedy. One sequence involving a rather smelly bulldog completely alleviates the tension previously built. This funny, but embarrassing encounter informs why the teens proceed with playing with the hand. It’s a perfect reflection of teenage overuse of alcohol and recreational drugs, highlighting their immaturity in understanding the hazards of their actions. 

As much fun as the first section of Talk To Me is, at the hour mark everything changes. The tone becomes much more serious and sombre, and Mia’s ordeal more terrifying. During a heavy hand session one of the group is seriously injured. Realising that the hand might have more of a hold on them than first anticipated, Mia begins a dark journey.

The shift in focus makes sense in terms of the story, but does drag down the previously punchy pacing. In contrast to the first hour, which races past, the final third grinds almost to a complete halt. Whilst populated with horrifying imagery, it takes until the last few moments for Talk To Me to land on solid ground again. Nonetheless, there is no denying that Danny and Michael Philippou have created a tantalising teen terror.

Talk To Me is in cinemas on 28th July.

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