Teens these days, let me tell ya! If they're not TikToking or listening to that newfangled rock and or roll, they're summoning the dead! At least that's what the teens are doing in "Talk to Me," a wonderfully nasty little Australian horror flick. Twin brother filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou set the stage for a gross, funny, creepy saga that often feels like Australia's answer to Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead." Indeed, the gross spirits that are summoned from the afterlife, buried in great effects makeup, call to mind the icky Deadites from Raimi's films.
After a startling opening that grabs your attention and gives you a hint of what kind of movie you're getting yourself into, "Talk to Me" introduces us to teenager Mia (Sophie Wilde), who is grieving the death of her mother. Unable to cope with her depressed father, Mia flees to the home of her friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen). Jade invites Mia to a party, and Jade's little brother Riley (Joe Bird) comes along as well. It at first looks like your typical teen party — lots of rowdy youths acting like jerks, getting high and drinking alcohol. Typical teen stuff. But then someone busts out a porcelain hand. And this is no fake hand, mind you! No, we're told that underneath the porcelain is the embalmed hand of a psychic. Or maybe it was a Satanist. No one is really sure.
The partygoers claim that if you embrace the hand and say "Talk to me," a spirit will be summoned. If you then say "I let you in," the ghost will possess you. There are rules, of course: you can only let the spirit possess you for a short amount of time before you close the door to the afterlife by blowing out a candle. Because if you let the ghost linger, well, it's not going to want to leave.
It's All Fun And Games Until…
There's an inherent predictability to this premise. You can tell from the setup — teens summoning ghosts! — that something is going to go very wrong here. And it does. But that predictability doesn't hurt the film. Instead, it almost adds to the fun — sure, we can guess what's coming. But we can't guess the vivid and evocative ways the events eventually unfold.
At first, it's all fun and games — the act of having the ghost possess you is presented as something akin to a rush, as if these kids have just done a massive bump of cocaine. When it's Mia's turn to shake the hand and speak to the dead, she's scared at first — but then succumbs to the thrill of it all. But when the younger Riley decides he wants a try at all of this spooky stuff, things don't go according to plan, and a genuinely horrific sequence of violence unfolds.
"Talk to Me" doesn't hold back on the red stuff, and while I wouldn't say it's excessively gory, it has a way of handling its bloody violence that really gets to you. It's like a shock to the system, and it serves as a unique counterbalance to the early scenes when the teens are acting like goofballs. It's all fun and games until ghosts start making you smash your own skull into a wall and rip your own eyeballs out.
Dumb Decisions, Great Scares
After its early, ghastly, entertaining scenes, "Talk to Me" loses momentum. Characters begin making extremely stupid decisions, especially Mia. You could argue that Mia's choices are being influenced by grief over the death of her mother, but she seems far too eager to go down the path of certain foolish doom rather than stop and think things through. This hampers some of the fun of the film — I found myself growing annoyed with nearly everything Mia does, which isn't exactly the quality you want from the heroine of the film you're watching.
Still, the Philippou brothers have a great grasp on nasty, shocking, Raimi-like horror, and that goes a long way toward tipping the scales in a favorable direction. Sure, the characters are making dumb choices, but there's enough creepy, spooky, bloody action to keep you hooked. And one thing is for sure: the next time you're at a rowdy teen party and someone suggests summoning the dead, you'll have learned to say "Thanks, but no thanks."
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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