A little while back I posted a list of “post-childhood kindertraumas; movies that legitimately scared me even though I viewed them as a reasonably rational adult. Well, if I waited just a little while longer before posting I could have easily added the Australian A24 supernatural scare-fest TALK TO ME. This flick grabbed me by the jugular, slapped me around some and even had me crunched up in the corner of my chair watching the screen through my fingers. I really wasn’t prepared at all, the title sounded more like an innocuous Stevie Nicks single than a horror film and the trailer had me thinking it was just your standard seance/Ouija board flick. Boy, was I wrong; at one point I distinctly remember thinking, “I’m getting too old for this!”, while discretely scanning the theater for the nearest exit just in case I needed to bail. There’s a brief moment of glimmering light near the climax when I thought it might transform into a rousing, cathartic “Dream Warriors” battle between good and evil forces but nope, the noose only tightens exponentially and I was jettisoned down a greased slip n’ slide toward hopeless REQUIEM FOR A DREAM territory. It was all sorta like when I thought I could ride the Matterhorn Mountain ride at Disneyland as a kid but ended up crying for my mommy instead.
Teenager Mia (Sophie Wilde, who I’m sure we’ll see plenty more of in the future) has basically adopted the family of her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jenson) as she tries to find solace from grieving her own mother’s suicide. The two girls and younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) sneak off to a party where a bunch of other kids are playing around with a strange plaster hand covered in cryptic writing. The deal is, you grab the hand to talk to the dead but if you hold it too long you might be stuck with a permanent tag-along ghost. Of course Mia’s mourning makes her extra susceptible and soon she’s playing horrifying games and winning even more horrifying prizes. Makes sense, we’ve all seen vaguely similar set-ups before but writing/directing brothers Danny & Michael Philippou really know what the hell they’re doing when it comes to delivering absolute unmitigated horror and dread. These incredibly creative (and mercilessly cruel) men even went so far as to gleefully stoke my biggest bugaboo fear of losing control and hurting myself and my much recorded aversion to scary faced smiling elderly people. Let’s just say that there’s one octogenarian visage that appears towards the end of the film that simply will not evaporate from my mind’s eye. I’m at the point where I may have to watch kitten videos on YouTube in an effort to erase the nightmare stain.
In other words, TALK TO ME is brilliant across the board; the direction is inspired, the acting (especially Wilde) is thoroughly convincing and the general tone is consistently somber, off-putting and dread inducing. As dark as the film is though, there’s an undeniable fresh, youthful undercurrent of exuberance to it that keeps what should be tired, absolutely enthralling. There’s also something so heart-wrenching and tragic throughout that keeps it from feeling like the typical horror ride. Mia is such an understandable and relatable character. All of her dumb moves come from a place of simply wanting to escape her emotional pain. She’s like a drug addict who thinks she’s found a miracle cure when she’s really just circling the drain. I really can’t praise this strangely moving, truly frightening work of art enough. I stand here so torn between wanting to see it again as soon as possible and wanting to run as far away from it as I can. To me this is horror in it’s most rare, concentrated, undiluted form and of course it’s equal parts mesmerizing and repulsive. I highly recommend going out and seeing TALK TO ME in the theater, I doubt there will be a better horror movie in some time.