This past summer Insidious: The Red Door surprised with a huge box office haul while The Last Voyage of the Demeter joined Renfield as the second Dracula adaptation to fall short of expectations. Somewhere in the middle, Meg 2: The Trench offered some dumb fun in amidst the dog days of summer. But one of the quieter surprises of summer was the Australian horror movie, Talk to Me. Here was a horror that wasn’t a sequel, prequel, or reboot. And it wasn’t based on any existing intellectual property. Yet somehow Talk to Me amassed upwards to $88 million worldwide on a small budget while critics sang its praises. A sequel has already been announced for the A24 thriller.
Two year removed from her mother’s death, 17-year-old Mia still struggles to reconcile her feelings and estranged relationships with her father. She spends most of her time with best friend Jade and her family, including Jade’s younger brother, Riley. One night, at a house part, Mia and her friends fool around at summoning demons using a strange embalmed hand. When they ask, ‘Talk to Me’, they open a door to another world. But when Mia keeps the door for too long, she invites a demonic entity into her world that immediately wreaks havoc.
Talk to Me Finds Plenty of New Scares From What Looks Like a Conventional Horror Premise
If you watched the trailer before seeing Talk to Me, you’d assume the Aussie export was just another teen horror movie. That opening scene – which shocks straight out of the gate – feels like a typical teen horror. Everything that follows, however, settles into a mature, unsettling piece of horror. Directors Danny and Michael Philippou mix bits of conventional horror with some A24 sensibilities. For instance, the story, written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman, borrows bits of horror tropes for the basic premise. At face value, Talk to Me treads the same ground as movies like Ouija or Insidious, leaning into ideas of ‘open doors’ and demonic possession. But the storytelling is mature, confident, and subtle. Audiences unravel what’s happening on screen close to the moment where the characters themselves understand, which enhances the suspense.
Directors Danny and Michael Philippou mix bits of conventional horror with some A24 sensibilities.
In addition, the Philippou Brothers mix expected approaches to horror with more understated techniques. On one hand, there’s the requisite jumps, jolts, and shocks that come with this sort movie. The Philippou Brothers know how to use the entire screen and use slick editing to make sure ghostly images pop out and score maximum scares. Yet Talk to Me immediately establishes a moody atmosphere wherein much of its horror is more unnerving than just shocking. Where Talk to Me also diverges from other A24 movies, like Midsommar, is that it invests more urgency to its climax. Yes, its ending is haunting. But the final act is pretty white-knuckle stuff that should put you on the edge of your seat.
Talk to Me Remembers to Include an Emotional Core to Its Scares
Amidst its scares and unwavering atmosphere, Talk to Me boasts a surprisingly effective emotional core. Plenty of horror movies use some past trauma or lingering grief to propel their narrative. Few movies do a good job of conveying that grief – more often than not, middling movies rely on ‘telling us’ why a character’s emotional pain matter. Yet Philippou and Hinzman carefully craft a gripping emotional rationale for Mia’s desperation to communicate with the other side. That is, the storytelling here is subtle – an early scene where Mia can’t bring herself to put a seriously injured kangaroo out of its misery becomes important to the finale. When Mia’s father reads a note from her mother that he’s long hidden, the weight of the moment is immediately apparent.
Yet Philippou and Hinzman carefully craft a gripping emotional rationale for Mia’s desperation to communicate with the other side.
Both the casting and the performances in Talk to Me are also exceptional. For once in a horror movie – or any movie for that matter – young adults and teens look and act like teens. Much of the storytelling here feels organic including how the teens fool around with the severed, embalmed hand. In what is a powerful turn as the troubled ‘Mia’, Sophie Wilde shows off an impressive emotional range that feels genuine While she initially mixes young naivete with reserved sadness, Wilde convincingly takes audiences on a mental breakdown as she struggles to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not. All of the supporting performances are similarly strong, particularly relative newcomer Joe Bird.
Talk to Me Opens a Door For Consideration as One of the Year’s Best Horror Movies
In a year where several horror franchises added new sequels and Dracula failed to launch twice, Talk to Me proved that an original movie could find success. While its basic premise is a conventional horror one, the execution was anything but derivative. The Philippou Brothers aptly balance a moody atmosphere with unnerving jolts and a suspenseful finale. And at the heart of this Aussie thriller is a strong emotional core that leads to a gut-punch of a final scene. As we approach the end of 2023, Talk to Me stands out as one of the better horror movies of the year.