Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Talk To Me

Title: Talk to Me

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
LENNY: They say he carved it himself ... from a bigger spoon.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Children shouldn't play with dead things.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3 "pain boxes" out of 5.
Tagline: N/A

Better Tagline: "It's all fun and games until the spirits don't want to leave."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: 17-year old Mia (Sophie Wilde) is having a difficult time, dealing with her estranged father and the death of her mom. Reluctantly, she agrees to go to Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Joss's (Chris Alosio) party, where instead of trashcan punch, the main attraction is the severed hand that allows the spirits of the dead to possess you for a short time. Her friends see it as a social media-friendly party trick, while Mia senses a means to communicate with her deceased mother.
"Critical" Analysis: Leave it to A24 to keep you guessing. The studio that brought us The Witch, It Comes At Night, Hereditary and Midsommar now delivers a fairly traditional horror movie in the vein of '80s and '90s scream flicks, the kind that showcase teenagers getting fatally in over their heads.

Unlikely as that sounds, what's even more far-fetched is how Talk to Me succeeds in spite of its (lack of) technical pedigree. It's the debut directorial features of Australian YouTubers Danny and Michael Philippou ("RackaRacka"), with the former co-writing the script alongside Daley Pearson, best (solely?) known for playing "Darryl" in Marvel's Team Thor shorts.

I didn't know any of this going in, so my review isn't a result of low expectations. The Team Thor vids were charming, but Taika Waititi wrote them. And if the legacies of the Paul brothers, PewDiePie, and a horde of similar attention whores are any indication, a lack of optimism could certainly be understood.

The Philippouses wisely stay within their comfort zone, setting the film in their native Australia, though I'm half-convinced the entire reason they shot there was so they could have an excuse to use a kangaroo for one key scene (though in retrospect, pretty much any herbivore would've sufficed).

But the setting contributes in subtler ways, contributing an unfamiliar vibe not limited to accents and marsupials. It's also nice how the Philippouses drop us in with little backstory besides a harrowing prologue. It fits with the urban legend vibe that no one can explain where the embalmed hand came from, or how it has the powers it does.
click to enlarge
Safe to say it's never great when your friends are looking at you like that.
And nothing is more stereotypically adolescent than repeatedly doing things that might bite you in the ass. The difference between getting hijacked by potentially malevolent souls and, say, shotgunning a six-pack of Stroh's is you can always puke the beer back up.

But teenagers being dumb is one of the central theses here. The hand may be a source of unspeakable power that must be researched (RIP Denholm Elliott), but to the assembled adolescents it's basically a spiritual bong to be passed around. Predictably, it's when a younger kid gets involved that shit goes sideways (one of A24's central themes is how bad an idea it is to bring children to a party).

The effects are subtle and largely practical: the characters' makeup during possession, for example, or the (thankfully) brief glimpses we're given of the "other side." In that sense, one has to assume Mia's grief is what convinces her to take the word of a moldering corpse over common sense. The body count is uncharacteristically low, given the forces at work, but that only gives the ones we see — and the abrupt violence in between — that much more oomph.

Add it all up and you've got a bracing and surprisingly tight take on the possession story. I'm interested to see where the Philppous brothers go from here. Just as long as it's not any more backyard wrestling videos.

Talk to Me is in theaters today.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar