Talk to Me Resurrects Frights In A Possession Game [Sundance Review]

Talk to Me still of Mia (Sophie Wilde) pressing her hand against glass and crying.

Scary paranormal games are fun because there’s always the question of what if this time it’s real. Playing at Sundance Film Festival, the movies follows a group of friends playing around with spirits using a ceramic hand, who eventually bite off more than they can chew. Filled with scares and chilling effects, Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou’s directorial feature is terrifying on multiple levels. The crushing pain of loss, the youthful sense of invincibility, and boredom bring Talk to Me to life. Horrifying in its tale about unaddressed grief, Talk to Me is a neverending cycle that’s fun to watch, from the sidelines, of course. After all, people will never stop playing spirit games. 

Talk to Me Has a Mouth-dropping Opening

Talk to Me photo of co-directors Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou
Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou, co-directors of Talk to Me, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The opening hooks you within minutes. It’s violent and shocking as a young man at a party stabs his brother, then himself as shocked partygoers film before fleeing in terror. Yet the film is not just an entertaining horror film with hair-raising tension, gore, and violence. Mia’s (Sophie Wilde) home life is tragic after the loss of her mother two years prior. She and her father are both emotionally closed off from each other. Mia spends most of her time at her best friend Jade’s (Alexandra Jensen) house. 

Unprocessed Grief

Mia’s loss still weighs heavy on her. So she attaches herself to Jade’s family to a suffocating degree. Mia’s friendship since less helpful and more problematic. Besides her need for attention, her relationship with Jade’s boyfriend, Daniel (Otis Dhanji), is an issue. After picking up Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird), they encounter a fatally injured kangaroo. Despite Riley’s urging to mercy kill it, Mia drives around it. Mia cannot even face her grief head-on, so facing death is impossible. After pleading with Jade, they agree to attend Haley’s (Zoe Terakes) party with Riley and Daniel, where Mia plays the “talk to me” game.  

Don’t Talk to Spirits

The titular game is one where the player allows a spirit to possess them for a short period. The time must remain brief, though why the deadline is ninety seconds is anyone’s guess. Where the embalmed ceramic hand comes from is unknown. But the results are heart-stopping. It’s never the same spirit, but they are all in various stages of death and decay. Though scary, Mia deems the experience “amazing.” After the party, Daniel decides he wants to try it. So they choose to do it at Jade’s home after her mom, Sue (Miranda Otto), leaves. 

Talk to Me still of Mia (Sophie Wilde) pressing her hand against glass and crying.
A still from Talk to Me by Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

At first, the group has a blast taking turns as hosts for an unknown spirit. Only Jade refuses to play though she enjoys watching the others. Riley pushes to play, so he looks cool in front of his friends, despite his fear. When Jade storms off after arguing with Riley, the others allow him to play. They live the cautionary phrase, “idle hands are the devil’s playground.” You have to remind yourself these are kids to make sense of their ridiculous choices.  

The effects in Talk to Me are top-tier freaky and gross. Similar to Ouija: Origin of Evil, there is danger in believing what these spirits say. And like Smile, discerning what and who is real becomes impossible. That’s where much of the terror lies. Talk to Me is engrossing horror fun that delves beneath the terror to explore grief. When people don’t let go of loss, they stop living. With grotesque effects, a wild game, and ending, Talk to Me brings the fun into horror. 

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