Believing that a pair of YouTubers would have one of 2023’s most-anticipated horror films might seem like a tall order to most, but that is precisely the case for brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, AKA RackaRacka, and their debut feature film, Talk to Me. The Australian duo has amassed over 6.5 million subscribers on YouTube, primarily known for their pranks, comedic skits featuring a “Ronald McDonald” character, videos with other celebrities such as KSI, and their impressive horror shorts. Eschewing their typical chaotic humor and occasionally wacky VFX, the Phillipou brothers succeed in crafting a far more intimate yet simultaneously terrifying project; Talk to Me stands out as not only RackaRacka’s most genuine venture to date but one of the year’s best horror films (so far).
The movie follows Mia (Sophie Wilde in a commanding performance), a teen grieving the recent loss of her mother. Hoping to stem her loneliness and despair, Mia attends a party with her best friend, Jade (Alexandra Jensen), and Jade’s brother, Riley (Joe Bird). The party’s star attraction? A ceramic hand that has gone viral for supposedly allowing one to communicate with the dead. Despite its authentic supernatural properties, the Gen Z crowd treats it as a game, filming the willing participants and seeing who can host the absurdist spirit in their bodies. When Mia attempts it, the presence overstays its welcome. Then, when she urges Riley on, he attracts a malevolent spirit who causes him to injure himself. Mia quickly races to save a dysfunctional Riley as her dead mother and other spirits suddenly occupy the dark corners of her life when not interacting with the hand.
The Philippou brothers, no doubt summoning their expertise with their popular horror videos on YouTube, gingerly craft a suffocating atmosphere filled with haunting imagery, tragic family circumstances, and some horrifying scenes. When the bleak realization of the kids’ situation hits, the tension in Talk to Me kicks up to 11 and never truly lets up. Unlike its July box office counterpart Insidious: The Red Door, which bombards the senses with its plentiful jump scares and then pads the time in between with less stimulating plot elements, Talk to Me maintains a constant sense of discomfort (playing well with the film’s A24-friendly trauma dumping) with some intelligently positioned terror sequences that do not drastically disturb the movie’s flow. The only complaint is that there should, ideally, be more of these scenes, which are sadly sparse until the final act, because what RackaRacka does offer the audience is disturbing and mortifying.
The third act is ultimately a logical enough conclusion to Mia’s story, as she has been affected considerably by the manipulative spirits on the other side of the ominous hand. However, without diving into spoilers, Mia’s path and some components border on cliché and tropey; the ending sequence is also somewhat predictable. Still, these largely subjective drawbacks are hardly egregious enough to warrant significant criticism. Alternatively, Talk to Me is chock-full of positives that prop the RackaRacka pair up as potentially excellent horror directors, including a horrifying family tale that rivals supernatural horror contemporaries like Hereditary and Relic.
Let’s not neglect the film’s commendable performances, notably Wilde and Bird’s, and an enjoyable supporting role from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s Miranda Otto. The always-excellent Make-up Effects Group handles the film’s practical effects, which shine whenever a decrepit, horrifying spirit graces the screen. And finally, one of the film’s most meaningful achievements – arguably – is emerging as one of Gen Z’s defining horror entries, highlighting the demographic accurately while incorporating universally relatable themes. Some random Internet comment compared this portrayal to Scream‘s embodiment of 90s teens, and while time will determine Talk to Me‘s influence on Gen Z and this modern wave of methodical horror, genre fans of all ages can revel in the success of yet another stellar film.
Talk to Me is now playing in theaters.