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Talk To Me (2023) – Review
Clever and socially provocative, Talk to Me is the horror breakout of not only the summer but the year. It centres around grief stricken teenager Mia (Sophie Wilde) who, along with a group of high school friends, experiments with an embalmed hand that possesses the special ability to connect with the dead and allows users to grant spirits permission to enter their bodies.
This innovative picture comes from the minds of Australian filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou known primarily for their pioneering Youtube content on their channel RackaRacka. Talk to Me premiered at Sundance Film Festival and was rightfully an instant hit with audiences and film companies alike; the movie was picked up by infamous production and distribution company A24. Not only does Talk to Me provide a haunting yet beautiful viewing experience, it dives into the importance of identity and tackles the idea of how a horror movie would play out in the modern, digital age.
The film’s directors have spoken about how Talk to Me explores the theme of connection and how Mia, shrouded in grief from the recent loss of her mother, is yearning for a connection to anyone or anything that will make her feel something (Fandango, 2023). Though what stood out to me the most was Mia’s connection to herself; her sense of identity. As aforementioned, Mia is struggling to cope with the passing of her mother and the consequential grief that has begun to consume her. As a result we realise that a part of Mia has died along with her mother, leaving a gaping hole in her sense of self that she is desperate to fill. Enter the embalmed hand which allows one’s body and soul to be consumed by a relentless cycle of spirits.
This addictive activity works on two levels to fill the void left by Mia’s mother. Firstly, the euphoric feeling of being possessed functions like a drug, providing her with temporary relief from the hopelessness and loss that currently defines her. Secondly, the act of allowing a spirit to physically force itself inside her shows Mia’s desperation to find an identity again, even if it is not her own. Talk to Me follows Mia on her distorted and somewhat futile journey to find herself again and warns that altering your reality – using drugs or possession – cannot change the circumstances under which your identity was broken in the first place.
Elaborating on the subject of reality, Talk to Me further examines a world in which we are perceived and scrutinised through a digital eye. We are introduced to the hand via a snapchat story in which a girl is clearly suffering at the hands of whichever spirit is coursing through her. When the camera draws back we see her distress illuminated by the light of several phone cameras, eager to document her torment. Furthermore at all
the parties hosted by Joss (Chris Alosio) and Hayley (Zoe Terakes) – the current owners of the hand – every possession is filmed and made public.
This highlights the significance social media has on an individual’s reputation as, a humiliating experience with the hand would obviously bring with it an embarrassing reputation, later exhibited when Daniel (Otis Dhanji) has a turn with the hand. The film encourages viewers to
realise the importance society places on a social media presence and a digital reputation; this generation is so immunised to the pain and suffering of others that they will happily record and publicise it if it promises a positive online reaction for themselves. It is only when Mia requests they use the hand outside the presence of phones and social media that the focus shifts from creating thrills and a viral video to Mia’s dependency on possession in order to feel whole again.
Talk to Me not only blurs the lines between the real world and the digital one but as the story develops we see Mia’s reality and the spirit world begin to intertwine. In between Mia’s innumerable possessions she begins to encounter spirits outside the use of the hand. Specifically she starts to see her mother who makes her question what is right and wrong and encourages her to inch further away from her own sanity.
Mia is presented with a morally impossible decision in order to save her friend with the manipulative spirit of her mother looming over her shoulder, trying to force her decision. The climax of Talk to Me is beautifully twisted as it portrays a loving mother-daughter relationship ripped apart by death and warped by grief. Here the Philippou brothers stunningly capture the fragility of the human mind and how the death of a loved one can cause our tether to reality to unravel.
Talk to Me exhibits all the shock and exhilaration ever present in Danny and Michael Philippou’s work and presents a unique ability to portray dark, mature and malevolent themes in a heartfelt and delicate way. The film emphasises a modern society’s dependence on a sense of identity established through our connections to one another and governed by how we present ourselves online.
Talk to Me sheds light on the fact that we are all one emotionally wrenching experience away from losing our grip on reality and severing all ties from our own sense of self.
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