Talk to Me (2022) Directed by Danny and Michael Philippou
“Singularly daft and thoughtlessly serious in equal measures” is the oxymoron that engulfs this Australian horror – the Philippou brothers’ feature debut – about the phenomenology of the afterlife made metaphorical with juvenile melancholy. The material is crafted with the correct stratagems to shock its intended audience; the spooky delirium of its form is decidedly pragmatic to frighten, and the productivity of it is consistently merciless in its self-proclaimed machinery for engendering potent inflection points that we never saw coming within its self-explanatory frame. Nevertheless, it’s conventional stuff first and foremost. Mia (Sophie Wilde) is a teenage girl who is dragging a dreadful depression since her mother died of an overdose, it is the second anniversary of her mother’s death and all the hazy memories and traumas of the past invade her, thus spurring her to pursue otherworldly entertainment. Mia goes to a bizarre party with her best friend (Alexandra Jensen) where a bunch of reckless teenagers defy the underworld with an embalmed hand of unspecified origin, which by following certain ritualistic steps helps you connect the realm of the living and the dead, in a possessed or spiritual way. The screenplay, as simplistic as it may seem, is inflated with macabre surprises, it wants to be a demented surrealistic ride through the tumultuous psychology of emotional grief and simultaneously be a rhapsody of ghostly terror.
The cunning use of diegetic sounds reverberate a physical reality in tandem with the strange phenomena, raising paranoia and existential doubt, and with this alone the film is confident enough to narrate a horror yarn that evokes old methodologies rather than fresh ones, albeit with startling effectiveness. I guess my appreciation of the film was affected by its generational levity – almost all of the characters treat the phenomena they witness with sacrilegious silliness, and even seem unsurprised by them, as if talking to ghosts and seeing them is the most mundane affair in the world. The tactical aesthetic of brothers Danny and Michael Philippou is always to resort to the visceral when the drama appears and feels too far-fetched, it’s inevitably a functional gimmick. But who cares if the duplicitous filmmaking is pulling off surreptitious contrivances at every turn? It’s not often that a supernatural horror film is as effective at scaring us as this one; there are some formidable bits of pure horror, and while the execution is not the most homogeneous, it fulfills its more populist purposes of providing the kind of violent thrills that the fan is looking for.