“Talk to the hand!”. It was the first thing that immediately crossed my mind upon watching the trailer for A24’s latest horror, ‘Talk to Me’. The quote mentioned above refers to Schwarzenegger’s T-101’s infamous cheesy line in ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’, which was coincidentally released this month twenty years ago. Except it has nothing to do with this movie, even though it would be a bonkers concept if T-101’s severed hand becomes somewhat possessed for a reason unknown and terrorized the hapless victims. ‘Talk to Me’ also reminds me of ‘Idle Hands,’ the 1999 underrated horror-comedy gem, which shared the central “possessed hand” premise.
The movie gets off to a promising start as twins Danny and Michael Philippou of the YouTube channel, ‘RackaRacka’ fame utilize a long take to follow a frustrating young man walking into the crowded house party. What happens next? Let’s just say it was something unpleasant. The Philippou twins may have been making their feature-length directorial debut, but they sure know how to build up a gradual tension before they go for the visceral shock. The tracking shot makes it even more effective.
The scene itself also effectively foreshadows the later events revolving around the 17-year-old Mia (Sophie Wilde). We learn she has been struggling to cope with the loss of her mother, who died of an apparent suicide for overdosing on sleeping pills. She barely talks to her father (Marcus Johnson), and she prefers to spend more time with her best friend, Jade (Alexandra Jensen), and Jade’s younger brother, Riley (Joe Bird).
One night, the trio goes to a house party hosted by Joss (Chris Alosio) and Hayley (Zoe Terakes). The main point of their party is the ceramic-encased, embalmed hand. The hand is said to belong to a psychic capable of contacting the dead from the other side. Here’s how it works: a person who is interested in experiencing the conjuring sensation will have to clutch on the embalmed hand and mention, “Talk to me,” followed by the words “I let you in.”
The latter resulted in a spirit taking possession of the person’s body. There’s a catch, though: Anyone who experiences it has only 90 seconds. Exceeding the time limit will cause the spirit to take over the person’s body forever.
The concept of communicating with the dead through clutching an embalmed hand allows the Philippou twins to stage a few macabre fun moments. Until the fun goes out of hand (no pun intended), which ends up with one of the characters turning haywire, the scene that follows is a mean-spirited, brutal, and graphically violent moment. It also serves as a cautionary metaphor of sorts.
Like how a person getting high from taking drugs but going too far only brings an ugly consequence.
The Philippou twins made the smart choice of keeping the origin of the embalmed hand on a need-to-know basis. This makes the setup scarier, and I’m glad the story doesn’t succumb to the expository-heavy scenario. Instead, they reflect Mia’s plight alongside the recurring themes of loss and grief that she is still reeling from her mother’s death.
Introducing the embalmed hand is like an escape-from-reality gateway for Mia to lose herself in a euphoric-like moment, allowing her to suppress her sad feeling even if the experience only lasts for a while. Then, the addiction happens as the movie progresses, with one of the spirits turning out to be her late mother.
She wants to stick around because it’s hard to let go when you love someone dearly. But the result of not letting go only leads to more disastrous results as Mia’s trauma amplified to a breaking point.
The movie has a genuine sense of palpable tension, thanks to the Philippou twins’ insistence on staging the horror moments using the seamless integration of practical effects and CGI.
The movie also gets some extra boost from Cornel Wilczek’s ominous score and Aaron McLisky’s dread-inducing cinematography. And not to forget, the sound design is both haunting and immersive, and no doubt watching this in cinema gives you an unsettling feeling.
‘Talk to Me’ is also notable for its above-average teenage cast. Relative newcomer Sophie Wilde delivers a breakthrough portrayal of an emotionally distressing Mia. I love that she doesn’t overact to make a point but rather maintains a subtle performance. Her co-stars, Alexandra Jensen, and Joe Bird, give solid support in their respective roles as Jade and Riley.
In the meantime, Miranda Otto made the most of her limited screen time as Jade and Riley’s matter-of-fact single mom who doesn’t mince words when dealing with her children or anyone else. The only setback here is Marcus Johnson, whose supporting turn as Mia’s father is sadly undermined.
Interestingly, the movie almost lacks jump scares typically associated with the possession-themed horror genre. It was a refreshing change of pace, proving that jump scares aren’t the only thing a horror filmmaker can do to elicit a sense of fright and terror. A great horror movie not to be missed.