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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Talk To Me // Film Review

When was the last time you saw a ouija board? There is a certain generation to which the mere mention of one can send shivers down the spine, yet they’ve failed to take hold of today’s teenagers in quite the same way. For the longest time, ouija ‘artifacts’ were a staple of sleepovers, house parties and Halloweens spent hiding out in derelict buildings, subsided only by other creepy challenges like ‘Bloody Mary’ or ‘Scary Maze’. So in the age of YouTube, Vines and TikTok virality, these games (or more astutely, the filmed reactions to them) should be more popular than ever, but they’re not. Amid this sea of digital content, every new trend or gimmick tends to be drowned out within a day or so. Talk To Me could change that.

Written and directed by former YouTube stars Danny and Michael Phillipou, whose horror vlog series ‘House of Racka’ took the Internet by storm with the same faux-documentary playbook as The Blair Witch Project, the brothers understand that the key to a great trend - particularly in this genre - is to make it as difficult as possible to differentiate truth from lie.

The central concept of Talk To Me is a ouija-type dare game concerning a ceramic hand said to contain the embalmed remains of a medium. To play, one only has to light a candle, hold the hand and utter the titular words, after which they will be visited by the decomposing corpse of a spirit trapped within. The twist is that nobody else can see this spirit; to them, the player is screaming, crying and trying to bargain with thin air. Naturally, few can resist filming the experience for socials; whether or not the apparition is real, the victim is putting on a great performance.

Talk To Me is a film predominantly about the idea of illusion in horror. Theoretically, the sinister spirits at its core can do no harm unless the player chooses to utter the words “I let you in”, but in effect the thrill of the game proves impossible to resist, with each new round giving the spirits more and more control. The Phillipou brothers even go so far as to draw a rough parallel to narcotic abuse; when one player is harmed early in the film, another is blamed by the authorities on the suspicion of giving him drugs. As an audience, we are placed firmly in the position of voyeurs throughout; it can be hard to look away as protagonist Mia (Sophia Wilde) continues to dabble in the occult, even after several grisly instances from which anyone sensible would know to walk away. The young directors understand that the real fun of ouija boards is in making us sadistic spectators; we know it’s wrong, but we’re desperate to see what happens to the next foolhardy player.

Wilde is marvellous in what you wouldn’t believe is her first leading film role as Mia, tapping into the same social anxieties as the likes of Florence Pugh in Midsommar or Maya Bakalova in Bodies Bodies Bodies. She is an outsider among both her friend group and her semi-adoptive (white) family, desperate to fit in and only succeeding when she puts herself in the firing line. Her character becomes marginally less compelling in the film’s back-half when a subplot involving a deceased family member takes hold, serving as little more than a plot device to keep her coming back to the game long after other characters have walked away, but Wilde’s sympathetic performance is enough to keep us engaged even through these more tedious details.

Talk To Me has been lauded online as one of the year's scariest films, and audiences have turned out in accordance, resulting in a massive overperformance at the box office which suggests that audiences still have their appetite for parlour game horror. This result is a triumphant statement of intent for the Philippou brothers, who have established in one-go a whole new set of horror imagery so simple that they're all-but-guaranteed to permeate through pop culture. No doubt A24 is already planning to sell Mia's embalmed hand on their online store, but even today all one needs to play at home is a dummy arm, a candle and braver stomachs than most of the yelping critics at our screening. Best of luck to you.


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