Max: I’ve become quite the fan of the horror genre in recent years, to the point where I’ve become desensitized to many predictable jumpscares and gory effects (although “Skinamarink” had my friends and I huddled on my couch in the dark, literally screaming in fear). Nonetheless, I chose to bring my partner with me to see A24’s “Talk to Me” at 10:15 p.m. so I had someone to hold my hand, just in case. And after watching the genuinely terrifying film, I am incredibly grateful I did.
Saarthak: A childhood of creepypastas and creature horror means that not much scares me anymore. Even so, I’m still a little vulnerable to seeing the wrong spooky image on Instagram during my pre-sleep scrolling and having to stay up for another half hour. I still shine my flashlight behind me while lightly jogging up the basement steps. Most of all, I’m still a bit scared of sitting alone in the dark to watch a horror movie — so I kind of faced my fear when going to see “Talk to Me” alone in a semi-filled theater for a 9:55 p.m. showing. I was not immune to its unease: Several times during the screening, the silhouette of a fellow moviegoer put me on edge, someone’s heavy breathing in the bathroom stall caught me off-guard after the film (more than it usually would, I mean) and on the way home I found myself having to stretch my jaw out from clenching my teeth for nearly the whole last hour of the film. So let’s talk about “Talk to Me.”
Max: “Talk to Me” unnerves its viewers when a group of teens gathers to speak to the dead using the hand of a deceased medium, only to let the spirits remain for a bit too long. Mia (Sophie Wilde, “The Portable Door”), grappling with the loss of her mother, must fight to get rid of the evil now haunting her and her friends. It is a story of loss and its effects on one’s relationships with the living, beautifully portrayed by Wilde and her peers. Trying to move through life as a teenager in the age of social media and in the midst of tremendous grief, Mia allows herself to be helplessly controlled by the forces surrounding her, whether they are the spirits of the dead or something less tangible. Her performance goes beyond that of just an iconic “scream queen” and into the realm of real emotional vulnerability as she fights to hold onto those she hasn’t yet lost.
Saarthak: Although there are a few story choices and jokes that detract from the derelict, hopeless tone of “Talk to Me,” its masterfully measured momentum through its various spectacular scare sequences more than make up for it. The music choices are similar, although music supervisor Andrew Kotatko’s (“Wolf Like Me”) selection of Australian party anthems set quite the contrast to Cornel Wilczek’s (“The Newsreader”) accompaniment to the visuals with an amazingly eerie orchestration, blending spine-chilling synths and strings as well as unnerving ensembles that dynamically range from reticently hair-raising to deafeningly dreadful. Its camerawork is exceptionally creative in some places and knows just when to hold or cut away by horror film standards in others, ensuring that every shot enhances anxieties. The smartest, most sinister segments are when it refuses to show what creeps the characters out, instead making expert use of obfuscating blurs and shadows — or only letting the actors’ reactions fill in the most fearful blanks in the viewers’ minds.
Max: Adding to this anxiety and one of the film’s best assets is its excellent gore and special effects makeup, orchestrated by a 17-person team. As each character becomes possessed, their eyes go pitch black and a sickly, nausea-inducing effect takes over their faces, as if the dead spirit is slowly killing them from the inside out. This effect is a perfect addition to actors’ brilliant performances as they embody the spirits within them. Excessive and disgustingly-realistic blood and gore as possessed characters maim themselves only adds to the feeling of helplessness present throughout the film.
The horror genre is the perfect way to explore the worst parts of the human experience, and “Talk to Me” does just this. It questions the relationship between living and dead, physicalizing the pain of continuing to exist when those you love no longer do and the helplessness of watching someone go through that experience.
Saarthak: It’d be impossible to ignore the Philippou brothers’ (“RackaRacka”) Youtuber origins influencing the film. Whether it’s hearing a script that uses the slang “cringe” accurately in its depiction of how awful secondary schoolers are on Snapchat or its careful attention to how the appalling possessions are always preserved in phone recordings and how its still pursued as a high like no other — Mia describes it as “being in the passenger seat” — “Talk to Me” has been created as a horror movie for the truly modern era.
However, the scariest part of the film — what has stayed with me even after there’s no longer anything disturbing about the dark, I’m no longer jumping at the slightest hint of humanlike noise and my goddamn jaw finally feels fine — is a tale as old as death. The real monster of the movie is what haunts every part of love, whether through friends, family or lovers: grief. Grief is what screams at us louder than banshees ever could. Grief is what hunts us through the halls more silently than a stalker. Grief is what erases our reflection in the mirror faster than any phantom. Grief is what sits staring in the corners of our room with more insidious intent than a sleep paralysis demon. Grief is what possesses us to perform those contemptible actions, far more detestable than any the devil could make us do — and if it’s not addressed, if you don’t talk to someone to go through that grief properly? It begins itself anew.