What to Watch Verdict
Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou make a statement about the horrors of living online lifestyles with their feature debut.
Proper social media commentary
Horror visuals stun
When shocking, holy crap it's shocking
Third act loses energy
The lulls stand out
Gets away from what is so exciting at first
Twins Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou — the creators of the popular stunt YouTube channel RackaRacka — translate their experiences as social media celebrities into the trendy post-millennial horror tale Talk to Me. Imagine the Ice Bucket challenge or something equally viral except with demonic possession.
The Philippou twins find an intriguing comparison between internet popularity and self-endangerment — until the TikTok appeal wears thin. Where movies like Sissy or Spree fully commit to the online components that lend to horror explorations, Talk to Me abandons what makes it unique, only to become another suitably creepy yet by-the-books possession nightmare.
Mia (Sophie Wilde) is at the movie's core, a teen staying under her best friend Jade's (Alexandra Jensen) roof. They're partners in crime who sneak out one night and confront a disturbing party game. Classmates Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Joss (Chris Alosio) reveal a ceramic hand that someone must clasp, which will conjure an unrested spirit. If the player is brave enough, they can let the soul inhabit their body — but stay possessed for more than 90 seconds and the visitor may take residence in the subject's body.
The concept is an inventive generational nightmare that raises poignant social media commentary. Jade watches videos posted by classmates that belong in exorcism movies like they're just another attention-getting status update. Youngsters tempt the unknown for the dopamine rush of post likes, thrusting the age-old concept of ouija boards into the 2020s.
Talk to Me is front-loaded as partiers turn something spiritually horrific into a stupid dare, pointing smartphone cameras at children contorting their bodies and speaking through someone else's voice to tremendous effect. Danny and Michael unlock the next evolution in demonic possession storytelling, never better than montages where a rowdy teenage comedy meets The Conjuring.
Talk to Me sells its horror imagery with the utmost unrest between decomposing corpses or grossly violent acts. Waterlogged women and other suffering souls appear in front of Mia and her friends as the dead-speakers foolishly hand over their bodies to the forgotten spirits, as makeup goes all the way to sell both deadheads and black-eyed possession attributes on kids' faces. Then, when the directors launch into the more deranged acts of Talk to Me, knives are plunged and heads are bashed with an emphasis on nerve-shredding violence.
As performers so emphatically give themselves to the inhuman movements under demonic grasps, some of which destroy their bodies when fun and games turn to torture and torment, Talk to Me shines. Extremes are unignorable as possessions escalate and characters are brutalized, which properly excites for whatever the Philippous do next.
However, Talk to Me downslides into a third act that becomes another story about how the undead don't want to stay dead. As the gamesmanship fades away, so does momentum. The movie introduces concepts like their take on a "Further" purgatory with writhing bodies where spirits are stuck but only use them as momentary additives left unexplored in favor of Mia's confrontation of evil soul-swapping shapeshifters.
There's nothing particularly off-putting about the post-playtime nature of Talk to Me; it's just that the young directors come out of the gate with something so infectiously exciting as a hashtag topic from Hell that the third act's tonal whiplash suppresses that spark. Character explorations relinquish a bit of oomph when the focus turns away from an outreached hand statue in some kid's basement, which becomes the crux of slower storytelling past the midway point.
There's no denying Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou make a statement with their feature debut about the horrors of living online lifestyles. Talk to Me is stylishly sinister, speaks fluent pandemonium and crushes panicky satanic vibes that are welcomed with open arms. Teenagers crack open a refreshingly new ouija board replacement for the Instagram-addicted crowd until the back end of Talk to Me minimizes what makes the front half so devilishly fun yet deeply cruel. It's ultimately an enjoyable horror entertainer that owns its bad attitudes and poor judgment but feels like only a mostly-successful idea that climaxes in more familiar genre territory after rocking the boat like a confident genre hurricane.
Talk to Me screened at the South by Southwest Film Festival. The new 2023 movie is set to premiere to general audiences on July 28.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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