Featuring a great premise from which to build a franchise, YouTube creators Danny and Michael Philippou’s directorial debut Talk To Me is a refreshing retread, imagining tantalizing “micro-possessions” that get stronger the more you use them. The premise is simple enough: a possessed hand that seems to have been passed down for generations opens a supernatural portal to the unknown, which can offer a brief moment of clarity before it inflicts unthinkable violence. As far as the violence goes, the film checks all the boxes with a murder/suicide opening sequence at an out-of-control house party, setting the affair in motion without giving away what’s to come.

Grounded in what at times seems like a quiet, nuanced family drama we’re introduced to Mia (Sophie Wilde) and Riley (Joe Bird). Mia has become a close family friend and a second sister to both Riley and BFF Jade (Alexandra Jensen). All three are products of fractured families. Jade’s mother recently passed and she’s currently navigating a strained relationship with her father (Marcus Johnson) who isn’t as present as he should be for his daughter. Riley and Jade are raised by their overprotective and overworked mother Sue (Miranda Otto) who has unfounded suspicions about Jade’s ultra-religious boyfriend Daniel (Otis Dhanji).

The screenplay, by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman, wisely makes character investments upfront to further ground the thrilling moral terror of the film’s third act. Jade and Mia take off to a party hosted by Hayley (Zoe Terakes), who introduces them to a game that should simply be called “talk to the hand.” A severed ceramic-coated hand with signatures from players past is the basis for a crude ceremony that involves candles and tying the participant to a chair… for their own good. Things quickly escalate and the terror it inspires becomes an obsession for Jade who takes things too far, ultimately changing the life of Riley in a terrifying sequence that recalls The Exorcist. Both films are grounded in a sense of realism, even if the film burns through some of the tone it establishes early on. Sometimes the easiest way to wrap things up might be the best.

Minor quibbles aside, Talk To Me delivers thrills, chills, and memorable characters like Mia, a caretaker who is both an insider and an outsider. She becomes a de-facto backup for Otto’s Sue, morphing into the role of babysitter, friend, and sister along the way, all the while dealing with family issues and her own grieving process.

The metaphor here may be slightly heavy-handed (pun intended!) but as pure horror, it respects the audience and delivers the goods, potentially setting the film up for an inevitable franchise. Like The Purge or Saw, there are unlimited possibilities. Let’s hope those involved continue to find a way to keep Mia as a central character.

Talk to Me premiered at Sundance 2023 and will be released by A24.

Grade: B+

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