“Talk to Me” — ★ ★ ★
You’ve got to hand it to the Philippou brothers. They’ve taken an old horror cliche — a severed hand — and made something worth, well, applauding.
“Talk to Me,” which hits theaters this Friday, is a stylish, well-crafted piece of filmmaking that marks the auspicious arrival of twin Australian filmmakers Michael and Danny Philippou.
Directed by the brothers from a script by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman, “Talk to Me” is modern and yet ancient, with just enough jump-cuts and zombies and dread, but not too much. It also downshifts out of madness in the final third to explore loss and guilt just when most films would ramp up the running-from-scary-guys part.
Our focus here are a pack of teens in Australia. Teens Down Under are pretty much the same as they are everywhere — snarky, peer-pressure-y and clique-y. But in addition to stealing their parents’ booze and smoking, these guys have a porcelain hand that is a doorway to hell.
Curiously, these teens don’t sit around and play beer pong or spin-the-bottle. They take turns holding the hand and inviting whatever bug-eyed, damp and foul demon to enter their body. (For not too long, though: 90 seconds sounds good before someone needs to cut the connection.) The kids film it all on their phones and post it on social media. (Who should get royalties isn’t clear.)
A seance goes awry for Riley (Joe Bird) in “Talk to Me.”
– Courtesy of A24
OK, let’s talk about this hand, which initially just looks like one of those mannequin pieces you find in upscale jewelry stores to show off expensive rings. It’s got loads of graffiti but looks pleasant enough. Underneath the porcelain we’re told, might be the severed hand of a medium or a satanist. Don’t ask a lot of questions about how some teens in suburban Australia got it. Talk to the hand.
What’s surprising is the joy it brings to our weird group. Being possessed in this movie is a rush — an unconventional idea in the horror genre — even though the demon who briefly controls you can do embarrassing things, like make out with a dog. The script seems to be playing with notions of recreational drugs as much as horror here.
The heroine of this tale is played by Sophie Wilde, and it’s her vehicle to stardom, too. It’s a role that asks her to be sad, exuberant, frightened, deadly, possessed, lusty, mournful and vengeful. She is all those things and more. She’s one to watch.
Her Mia is grieving the anniversary of her mother’s suspicious death and a demon that may or may not be mom shows up during their little game. That leads the plot in the second half to go supernatural and also where holes in the logic tend to stretch.
But there’s no doubt the Philippou brothers have possessed us. Born and raised on YouTube — they cut their filmmaking teeth building RackaRacka (take that, fancy film schools) — they’ve crashed the party with a great debut. Welcome them warmly, just don’t shake their hands.
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In theaters. Rated R for strong, bloody violent content, sexual material and language. 95 minutes