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Talk to Me (2023) - Movie Review

The horror film "Talk to Me," directed by Danny and Michael Philippou, taps into a chillingly plausible scenario that could easily enthrall an entire generation. The story centers around a potentially fatal game fueled by social media trends and a fascination with the supernatural. Players hold onto a graffiti-clad ceramic hand, previously owned by many, to invite a spirit to possess them briefly. This frightful challenge engrosses Australian teenagers like Mia (Sophie Wilde), Jade (Alexandra Jensen), and Jade's younger brother Riley (Joe Bird), allowing them brief encounters with the dead. As they yield control of their bodies, their peers excitedly record the spectacle. This is a great quintessential adrenaline rush for a generation obsessed with viral sensations.

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This concept by Daley Pearson, provides a compelling framework for a contemporary horror story. It has the potential to spawn a successful series, much like "Final Destination," "The Purge," and "Saw." The inaugural chapter of "Talk to Me" sets the stage with a focus on the destructive effects of grief-induced possession on the individual and their loved ones. The horror escalates in sequels, with a higher body count or darker narrative.

A set of guidelines supposedly makes this lethal dance safe. Amidst scenes of teenage revelry and dangerous games, we get a glimpse of the thrill Mia, her friends, and current hand owners, Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Joss (Chris Alosio), derive from this activity. But the atmosphere turns ominous. A spirit claiming to be Mia's mother, who had committed suicide two years earlier, possesses Riley. In a frantic bid to extend the connection, Mia pushes the boundaries. This results in Riley slipping into a coma with multiple self-inflicted head wounds - the spirit's attempt to usurp his body completely.

The latter half of "Talk to Me," much like many recent horror films, grapples with the theme of loss. Yet, Sophie Wilde's superb performance lends nuanced depth to the narrative. Mia's struggle isn't limited to maintaining contact with her deceased mother. She battles to prevent the dissolution of her newfound family comprising Jade, Riley, and their stern mother Sue (Miranda Otto). Wilde's portrayal of Mia encapsulates the desperate struggle of youth, trying to navigate past traumas and an uncertain future. This causes her to retreat from reality in her quest to manipulate the hand's power.

While we rarely see the social media documentation of these incidents, the film portrays the unnerving reality of such events. Writers Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman capture the essence of teenage rebellion, which only intensifies when everything begins to crumble, escalating the stakes and danger. Despite its core horror theme, "Talk to Me" carries an undertone of a coming-of-age story, treating its young audience with respect and not resorting to condescension.

While "Talk to Me" provides a fair share of gruesome fun, particularly for those who appreciate expertly crafted gore, compelling sound design, and an unapologetic tone, it doesn't fully deliver on its promising premise. The opening scene, a gripping snapshot of terror, sets high expectations not quite met by the remainder of the film. The film's tendency to underplay its strength sometimes undermines its potential despite the intriguing concept.

Regardless of whether the narrative continues, "Talk to Me" leaves a lasting impression as the Philippous' impactful directorial debut. Their YouTube origins are discernible in the emotional mayhem depicted in the film. As a fresh and imaginative spin on possession narratives, the Philippous have made a noteworthy transition into full-length feature films. However, a little more innovation within the genre would undoubtedly amplify their impact.