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‘Talk To Me’ review: think twice when trying to use the supernatural as a party game

A group of teens partake in a viral game where you call out entities. What could go wrong?

Sundance Institute

If there has even been a uniform warning throughout horror film folklore, it’s to be careful conversing with the dead. No matter how often you’ve read the instruction manual on your ouija board, that won’t prepare you for the unpredictable nature of the supernatural. Now consider this with the allure of a viral challenge. You might see something on Tiktok or Instagram a plethora of fellow young people are doing and might decide to throw caution to the wind.

Talk To Me makes a fun attempt at subverting the possession sub-genre and naturally placing it within a modern context of social media consumption. Directors Danny and Michael Philippou look to strike a somewhat comedic tone with a throughline of seriousness that can either weigh each other down or elevate each other at points.

So, what is the game, exactly? It requires someone strapped to a chair and holding onto a ceramic hand. It’s said that under the mold, it’s the hand of a dead person. Once you grab it and say the command, “talk to me,” you will see somebody on the other side. It doesn’t stop there – the kicker is someone also saying, “I let you in,” – prompting the spirit to enter a living body. It’s dangerously reckless and surely will go wrong.

Mia (Sophie Wilde) is a high schooler still struggling with losing her mother to suicide two years prior. Because of this, she completely ignores her father and chooses to spend her time around the family of her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird). There’s also a slight complication to Mia and Jade’s friendship – Jade is dating Mia’s ex-boyfriend Daniel (Otis Dhanji). We'll say the interactions that happen when all three are together are a bit awkward. Mia has an inner struggle in feeling her mother didn’t take her on life, and there must be another answer.

This leads everybody to a party where Hayley (Zoe Terakes), whose particularly frosty to Mia, and Joss (Chris Alosio) introduce everybody to the game. A brief prologue at the beginning of Talk To Me discreetly hints at a horrible situation ahead. As each teen partakes in this challenge, they have different experiences within the rules they set. Some border on the absurd and the funny, but being a vessel for an entity should scare anybody. It’s not until a session goes violently wrong that these kids know what they’ve been tapping into.

The writing team of Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman work to add an emotional layer to a film that can be brutal aplenty at times. Most of that is embodied in Mia’s character and how this experience directly impacts her. She becomes obsessed with this game, almost in a drug-like metaphor. Not only does having something take control of you lessen the pain in your current state, but maybe it’s a way to contact her mother. However, a procession of eerie dealings seems to be waiting for her at every turn.

Regarding the origin of the game, Talk To Me leaves details sparse. Where did this hand come from, who does it belong to, and why does it hold superpower? One of the kids got it from another person. In quintessential horror film fashion, the group goes to the last person impacted for answers – even those are a little spotty. As the film expands its scope, it does a good job of taking on a dream-like state where the lines are blurred being reality and fantasy. This is as some of the narrative pieces of the larger story and Mia’s unrelenting grief separate in different places.

Talk To Me elects to take another path if you’re looking for a film that wraps things up in a simple, someone-light conclusion. If anything, the more heavy-handed approach from the Philippous brothers is a welcome note to how conventional things could have gone. At its heart, you’ll learn that the dead should stay there and maybe break out the Jenga pieces at your next get-together.