A24 has redefined the art of cinema, in some respects. Gone are the days of flocking to the picture palace to see a VFX-laden spectacle, glutted within a 9-figure-budget. We now desire the relish of authenticity, 4:3 aspect ratios, and avant-garde films we “discovered” with our own fingertips, despite our reliance on TikTok’s algorithm. From the lingering traumas of Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018) to the nightmarish gloominess of Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse (2019), A24 manages to catapult the once cheap and tawdry chainsaws of the B-grade horror movie to the preening, high-brow status of “elevated horror”. Their latest catch on the menu? A directorial debut by Australia’s own Philippou brothers: Talk To Me (2023).
Talk To Me is a film that wastes no time in establishing its grit. Its first few moments place us fiercely in the cacophony of a teenage house party, where pregnant laughter and innocuous clamours are cut prematurely by a sudden, demonic fit of stabbing. The stage is set for the employment of familiar horror elements: naive, yet unafraid, adolescents toy with a paranormal object which conjures spirits from the half-dead. In this case, it’s an embalmed hand that allows for the temporary possession of one’s body for 90 seconds — a situation that’s hardly implausible for a group of adrenaline-seeking teens, though still not immune to the often felt “why on earth did they think that was a good idea?” thought. At times, one might find their hands brushed over their face — a gesture that works as a face-palm as it does a mechanism to shield one’s eyes from the gory and bloody feast.
It’s clear, however, that the artistic vision for this film has not been lost in its production. Under the moniker “RackaRacka”, Australia’s home-grown video creators Danny and Michael Philippou have pioneered the YouTube-comedy-channel to arthouse-horror-director pipeline, and created a film that feels so distinctly and refreshingly Australian that the accent feels almost jarring on the big screen. Along with its authentic depictions of secret late-night meetups and an excessive use of Snapchat, the Philippous dive head first into an exploration of grief, friendship, sex, drugs and alcohol, successfully weaving together a horrifying depiction of turmoil in adolescence with a coming-of-age feel and unnerving themes of horror. Despite a somewhat predictable ending, the Philippous provide a satisfying finish to their film; especially for their freshman effort.
While Talk To Me does falter in having high school leads who are clearly in their mid-twenties, the performances of its fresh-faced cast are what really sell the film. Particularly, lead Sophie Wilde (Mia) shines with her captivating expressions of the scurrying emotions, thoughts and fears which plague her character’s mind, leaving us questioning the supposed insanity of her actions. Joe Bird (Riley) sells his character’s demonic possession, while well-loved Miranda Otto (Sue) brings a sense of comfort to the story as his mother. Zoe Terakes (Hayley) and Chris Alosio (Joss) also humorously play familiar Australian teenage archetypes, with Aaron Mclisky’s sweeping camera work serving as the film’s cherry on top.
From their humble beginnings as RackaRacka, the Phillipous have successfully crafted a debut that’s both thrilling and tantalising in their leap onto the big screen. A24’s “elevated horror” demands substance and sustenance beyond the blood and the gore, and Talk To Me delivers just that.