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When a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill, until one of them goes too far and unleashes terrifying supernatural forces.VVS

  • Talk to Me
  • Classification: 14A; 94 minutes
  • Directed by Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou
  • Written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman
  • Starring Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen and Miranda Otto
  • Opens in theatres July 28

Critic’s Pick

The summer movie season has so far been a real horror show – bloody financial calamities here, there and everywhere – even when it comes to that most reliable of multiplex staple, the horror movie. The Boogeyman and The Blackening both failed to find audiences. And while the latest Insidious film overperformed at the box office, it didn’t exactly continue the grand macabre tradition of the franchise.

Which means the fate of this sweltering spooky season rests in the hands of the new Australian horror flick Talk to Me – or, rather, the single severed hand whose supernatural powers are the focus of the film. Following a group of high-schoolers who get their kicks out of conjuring spirts using a mysteriously embalmed hand – one kid says it’s the appendage of a psychic – Talk to Me aims for an elevated kind of hipster-horror thrill ride, a round of high-shriek scares amplified by the cynical consumerism of the TikTok generation. And damned if the movie doesn’t pull its sick trick off, delivering a jolt to the genre that should hopefully turn the summer around. (It is also the most explicitly Australian of Aussie movies to get a wide North American release in some time – note the presence of the dead kangaroo in the film’s first few minutes foreshadowing the dark Down Under hijinks to come.)

Opening with a raucous house-party scene, impressively captured in all its intense and ultimately violent glory by sibling directors Danny and Michael Philippou (better known for their popular YouTube channel RackaRacka), Talk to Me then settles for a bit by detailing the home life of Mia (Sophie Wilde), a Sydney teenager who is dealing with the suicide of her mother. Hanging close with her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird), and the siblings’ relaxed and permissive mother, Sue (Miranda Otto), Mia seems to be coping well enough. But then the three kids are invited to a house party.

It turns out that the latest party drug of choice for Australian teens is not MDMA but demonic possession, with the kids taking turns clutching that aforementioned embalmed hand, whispering the words “talk to me” and then getting taken on a wild ride. Their bodies twitch, their voices deepen, their eyes roll back – and the fun is all captured on smartphone for viral digital dissemination. Well, so long as the stunt lasts under 90 seconds – any longer, and whoever might be holding onto the hand risks opening up the cracks between the worlds of the living and the dead. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for this bond to be broken, with Mia using the hand to attempt a connection with her deceased mother.

This is when all hell breaks loose, in both metaphorical and literal form. And it is when less inspired filmmakers might resort to pulling out the usual bag of horror tricks, including jump scares, dark lighting and copious gore. Yet the Philippou brothers are pushing for something different here, employing a battery of fright moves that are slicky sick and impressively demented. What the pair do to poor young Riley in particular – his body becoming an unwitting vessel for Mia’s otherworldly transgressions – will give horror fans the best and most unshakable kind of nightmares.

Although the movie’s energies dip slightly toward its end, when Mia’s plan to rid the world of the cursed hand requires superhuman acts of strength and derring-do, Talk to Me delivers a series of slash-and-burn shocks that last far longer than 90 seconds. Grab a hold of it, and don’t dare let go.

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