Talk to Me

Talk to Me

Mia (Sophie Wilde) and Riley (Joe Bird) are driving home without a care in the world when they stumble upon a wounded kangaroo. Probably hit by a truck, the kangaroo lies on the road bleeding and mewling for help. Should they call someone? No, it's too late for that. Should they stay and try to comfort the animal as it bleeds out? That could take hours. They need to put it out of its misery, but Mia can't bring herself to do the deed. So they drive off, with the image of the broken kangaroo and the sounds of its cries echoing in their mind.

It's the sounds that will stick with you after you leave Talk to Me, the debut feature from Australian directors Danny and Michael Philippou. Sure, the images from cinematographer Aaron McLisky are haunting and quite grotesque, but it is the violence and specificity of the sound design by Emma Bortignon that make this horror movie work. In the movie's opening scene, one concerned brother (Ari McCarthy) searches a house party for another (Sunny Johnson). As he walks through the kitchen, he passes a woman slicing food with a very sharp knife, the metallic sound of a blade cutting through food and hitting the wooden board below prominent on the soundtrack. Foreshadowing, certainly, but also very unnerving.

A lot of Talk to Me is unnerving. Downright terrifying, too. The story concerns a plaster hand that allows individuals to communicate with the dead. The lore behind the hand is that it used to belong to a medium who was killed, the hand severed from the body and preserved in plaster for posterity. Now the plaster hand passed from friend to friend like a party favor. For most keepers of the hand (Zoe Terakes and Chris Alosio), the chance to communicate with the dead is a rush unlike any other. For others—say Mia—it presents a desperate opportunity to speak with her deceased mother. But that's not how this game works. Those who visit the dead like tourists are allowed to go on with their lives. Those like Mia, who want to communicate, open a door bigger than they expect.

Talk to Me is effective because it moves at a speed where reflection and explanation aren't necessary. One scene does pause and allows two characters to discuss how the hand works. Though it sounds pretty good, it also introduces the parameters of the sorcery and that almost never works in movies. Screenwriters Bill Hinzman and Danny Philippou seem to internalize this and rescue the story from ridiculousness and push it back towards propulsion. It's damn effective, and as the narrative begins to echo earlier scenes, you begin to appreciate the structure of the thing while simultaneously recoiling by the choices the characters make. Now that's good horror.

Michael Casey

Talk to Me

Mon October 30, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium

Australia, United Kingdom; 2023; in English, Greek; 95 min • official site

Idea: Daley Pearson, Director: Michael Philippou, Danny Philippou, Writer: Danny Philippou, Bill Hinzman, Cast: Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Miranda Otto

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