Back in April, Evil Dead Rise brought its respective franchise back from a lengthy hiatus for more gruesome thrills at the hands of demonic entities and possessed persons alike. At 97 minutes, it doesn’t give the audience much to hold onto when it comes to empathetic characters, but its lean-and-mean delivery makes up for the gaps in pathos.
Now we have Talk to Me, another tightly paced and properly brutal supernatural horror outing with some strong instincts for tension that doesn’t quite add up to much. Comparatively, the Evil Dead movies have their own mythology that is either called back to or explained in each entry, but the internal logic of Talk to Me starts to get muddled halfway through. It’s certainly a film that sticks the landing in its final moments, but its willingness to play fast-and-loose with the rules of this world takes too much away from the final product.
Our heroine of is Mia (Sophie Wilde), a temerarious teenager whose mother’s suicide years prior puts her at a distance with her father, Max (Marcus Johnson), and drives her to cheap thrills in her South Australian suburb. Mia’s best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) takes her to a party one night, where a pair of brash blokes bring out the preserved hand of a medium they say can conjure otherworldly spirits. If an individual grabs hold of the hand and utters the titular phrase, the ghost appears, and if they follow up with, “I let you in,” the participant allegedly becomes possessed by the apparition. When Mia experiences the “game” for herself, she becomes consumed with the prospect of communing with her mother, but she invites other evil inside of her in the process.
With a plot that combines dangerous séances with a cursed totem passed among teens, Talk to Me seems to take numerous cues from contemporary horror hits It Follows and Hereditary. Aside from having more meat on the bone thematically, those two movies also had more clearly defined boundaries in place for their supernatural story elements. Talk to Me starts with a firm grip on how its spirit world works, but starts to loosen up as it goes along, even though the mood and atmosphere itself is always appropriately tense. There’s a plot detail involving the lighting and extinguishing of a candle near the embalmed hand that renders the plot too messy in regards to how and why spirits are able to appear.
In their feature directorial debut, co-directors and twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou strike up individual moments of otherworldly terror borne from meddling with the wrong forces. In particular, Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) has a couple scenes of facial and cranial trauma that would make Hereditary and Midsommar director Ari Aster grin creepily with delight. Like those two films, Talk to Me is also distributed by the tastemakers at A24, who have made a habit of producing grabby, and sometimes misleading, trailers for their horror selections. Those who walked away disappointed from artsy fare like It Comes At Night or Lamb need not have those concerns with Talk to Me, arguably one of the most immediate and least esoteric horror movies under the A24 banner.
The Philippou brothers began their collective creative career under the moniker RackaRacka, piloting a YouTube channel awarded for its mercurial brand of horror comedy. Aside from a very occasional moment of levity, as when a car full of teens belts out Sia’s “Chandelier” in unison, Talk to Me doesn’t delight in the same kind of comedic flourishes present in recent horror entries like M3GAN or last year’s Barbarian. While certainly not every horror film needs to have comedy in it, the Philippou twins at least have demonstrated the skillset to potentially include some laughs in future films should they continue down the path of horror.
Despite some eerie effects work and an engaging central performance by Wilde, Talk to Me never quite gets a handle on what it wants to say.
New movies coming this weekend
Opening in theaters is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, an animated superhero film starring Micah Abbey and Shamon Brown Jr. continuing the saga of the titular Turtles as they go on a hunt for a mysterious crime syndicate.
Coming to theaters starting Friday is Meg 2: The Trench, a sci-fi actioner starring Jason Statham and Wu Jing about a research team who, once again, encounters colossal prehistoric sharks on an exploratory dive into the deepest depths of the ocean.
Screening at Cinema Center is Earth Mama, a drama starring Tia Nomore and Erika Alexander involving a pregnant single mother, with two children in foster care, who embraces her Bay Area community as she fights to reclaim her family.