‘Talk to Me’: A ceramic hand connects teens with the other side in horror film rich with imagery

Australian movie deals with themes of grief and loss, delivering plenty of scares along the way.

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Hayley (Zoe Terakes) is one of the keepers of a ceramic hand that alters anyone who grips it in “Talk to Me.”


Two young men, one of them clearly distressed, are surrounded by partygoers who have their cellphone cameras pointed at them, expecting something shocking to occur — but the Tik Toking Insta-vultures still aren’t prepared for what happens next.

A teenager and her surrogate younger brother are singing joyously along to Sia’s “Chandelier” on the car radio when they see a terribly wounded kangaroo in the middle of the street.

A young boy lies unconscious in a hospital bed, his face battered beyond recognition, his limbs fractured. When he comes to, he leaps out of the bed and engages in ferociously violent and vicious self-harm.

‘Talk to Me’


A24 presents a film directed by Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou and written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated R (for strong/bloody violent content, some sexual materials and language throughout. Opens Wednesday at local theaters.

These are just some of the horrific images still rattling around my memory after I experienced the nasty and stylish and at times terrifying Australian horror film “Talk to Me,” which marks an impressive directorial debut from twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, who made their bones creating enormously popular horror comedy videos on YouTube.

With superb cinematography by Aaron McLisky, crisp editing by Geoff Lamb and natural performances from the tight ensemble of mostly unknown and talented actors, “Talk to Me” plays like an updated version of the original “Flatliners” against a much grittier backdrop. (After all, “Flatliners” was directed by the gloss-loving Joel Schumacher and featured the likes of Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon and William Baldwin. Even when those crazy kids were crossing into the next world with dire consequences, it was kind of beautiful.)

After a pin-you-in-your-seat prologue involving that aforementioned party (which will eventually tie into the grand scheme of things), “Talk to Me” kicks off the main storyline with 17-year-old Mia (Sophie Wilde) hanging out with her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Jade’s tagalong little brother Riley (Joe Bird), with Jade and Riley’s mother Sue (Miranda Otto) hovering about. (Sue’s default mode is distrust; she’s like an unfriendly prosecutor as she constantly quizzes them about their activities.) It’s Mia’s mom’s “Remembrance Day,” the anniversary of her dying from an overdose of pills, and it soon becomes clear Mia would much rather spend time at Jade’s house than at home with her father (Marcus Johnson), who is distant and lost, and perhaps hasn’t been entirely truthful with Mia about the circumstances of her mother’s death.


The spirit from beyond takes over Mia (Sophie Wilde).


There’s a party. There’s always a party in a movie like this. The gregarious Joss (Chris Alosio) and the tough-talking Hayley (Zoe Terakes) are in possession of a ceramic hand which they claim actually covers a real severed hand — and if you grip the hand and say, “Talk to me” and then “I let you in,” you’ll be possessed by the spirit of a troubled and grotesque and practical-effects-scary entity from the other side. Mia volunteers, and when the spirit takes hold of her, her face becomes contorted, and her pupils dilate to the point where she looks like an alien. It makes for fantastically disturbing imagery.

As we see time and again, there’s something clearly exhilarating about the experience; when you let go of the hand after 90 seconds (those are the rules, it can be for only 90 seconds), it’s as if you’ve just had the most adrenaline-pumping, addictive, drug-like rush of your life. The way these kids laugh maniacally and dance around and clamor for their turn with the hand, it’s almost as if they’re still possessed. It’s creepy and unsettling, and you can just feel there’s disaster lurking around the corner, even if these naïve and reckless souls can’t.

Sure enough, things start to go sideways, in chilling and sometimes bone-cracking fashion. Jade’s conservative, super-Christian boyfriend Daniel (Otis Dhanji) takes hold of the hand and is possessed by some kind of demented, ultra-horny spirit, resulting in a development so nauseating I can’t describe it here, in case you’re eating while reading this. Young Riley is subjected to extreme violence when he takes his turn gripping the hand. Mia breaks the 90-second rule and starts seeing her deceased mother (Alexandria Steffensen), who begins to communicate with Mia even when Mia isn’t connected to the hand.

Like many a horror film, “Talk to Me” explores the themes of dealing with grief and loss. Mia has latched on to Jade’s family in lieu of processing her loss and dealing with her father, who seems like an empty shell, lurking in the shadows in their dark and depressing home. When she believes her mother has returned in some form, she’s so desperate to connect and find answers, she’s reckless about her own safety and the well-being of her friends. We never get a full explanation about that magical/cursed hand (this is a movie practically demanding a prequel, and a sequel), but kudos to the filmmakers for delivering an uncompromising, bittersweet and goosebumps-inducing finale. Like that damn disembodied hand, “Talk to Me” will keep you in its grips throughout.

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