Talk to Me Grabs On Tight and Doesn’t Let Go

Disclaimer: The following review was completed and submitted prior to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. This reviewer will not be reviewing any new film or television projects while the strike is ongoing. 

*This review contains some minor spoilers*

Mia slumps over, possessed. Her eyes are black.

I watched Talk to Me, the new debut horror film from directing duo Danny and Michael Philipou, at one of the July 11th Alamo Drafthouse preview screenings. My partner came with me, even though the Brooklyn and Manhattan screenings were sold out, which meant we had to travel all the way out to Staten Island to see it.

“What’s it about?” she asked on our way there.

I tried to think of what I could say to justify traveling almost an hour each way to see a movie in the middle of a work week. I came up short.

“I don’t really know. It seems like a sort of early aughts-style teen possession movie. People say it’s really scary, though!”

I had seen the trailers. They were fine. I had read the reviews. They were positive, but nothing in them really pulled me in. I’m neither an A24 acolyte nor a committed A24 skeptic, so that didn’t give me much to go on. Of everything I’d seen, I was expecting something a little goofy, but perhaps well-made. Nothing of substance, but maybe it’d be fun to yell at the screen. In short: nothing worth traveling to Staten Island for.

I was wrong.

*Spoilers below*

A ceramic hand reaches out to hold a human hand.

The plot of Talk to Me is in fact about as simple as it seems: Mia (Sophie Wilde) is a dangerously lonely teen mourning the loss of her mother on the two-year anniversary of her ambiguously categorized death (the classic: accident or suicide?) Her father (Marcus Johnson) is distant and difficult to talk to, so she latches onto her friend Jade’s family instead. However, Jade (Alexandra Jensen) is too busy with her new boyfriend/Mia’s childhood sweetheart, Daniel (Otis Dhanji), to pay much attention to Mia, so Mia spends most of her time with surrogate mother-figure, Sue (Miranda Otto), and Jade’s sweet little brother, Riley (Joe Bird).

Meanwhile, there’s a viral challenge gaining popularity with kids at Mia’s school. We watch her obsessively scrolling through videos of her classmates grasping onto a strange, ceramic hand and seizing up, their eyes suddenly pitch-black and vacant. Mia wants to try. She wants to be part of it. She drags a skeptical Jade out to a party where she knows people will be doing it and pressures Jade into letting Riley join them. At the party, Mia’s clearly out of place and disconnected from her peers. But she’s also the first to volunteer to try the challenge. Ringleaders Hayley and Joss explain the rules:

  • Light a candle to open the door.
  • Make sure you’re tied up tight to your chair.
  • Hold the hand in yours and say “talk to me” to talk to a spirit.
  • Say “I let you in” to allow the spirit to possess you.
  • After no more than 90 seconds, someone has to remove the hand from yours to break the connection and blow the candle out to close the door.
  • If the spirit stays inside of you for more than 90 seconds, it might never leave.
  • If you die with a spirit inside of you, you belong to them forever.

A group of teenagers film something on their phones

Mia tries it. Immediately, she sees a spirit and is so terrified that she can’t say the second sentence to allow it in. The group cheers her on, encouraging her to try again. She does. This time, she manages to get the words out and another spirit takes ahold of her. It uses her body to point at Riley and say how much “he” likes him, telling him “He’ll split you!” over and over again until it becomes a screaming chant. Riley is distraught, but Mia barely seems to notice. Everyone’s so impressed with her. When asked about how it felt, she says it was “amazing.”

Shortly after, Jade tells Mia that Daniel wants to try it and so the two conspire to invite Joss and Hayley over to Jade’s house for the evening. After Daniel has a sick (and very funny) experience, the rest of the older teens take turns with the hand over and over and over again in a frantic and chilling montage set to a fantastic rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La Foule.” Just as the night seems to be wrapping up, Riley says he wants to try. Jade forbids him, but Mia is easier to convince. “Just for 60 seconds,” Riley begs, clearly wanting to impress his older friends. They agree on 50. Disaster ensues.

A boy strapped to a chair is dragged across the floor by an unseen force.

If you’ve reached this point in the review, you’ve probably already guessed that:

  1. Someone breaks the rules and accidentally allows a spirit to take hold of their body.
  2. Something awful happens to poor Riley.
  3. Mia’s dead mother makes an appearance.

And you’re right! When you go watch this movie in theaters (which I strongly encourage you to do), you’ll likely be able to predict the ending along with many of the major plot points. While some may find this disappointing, I didn’t. I enjoy a fun twist as much as the next person, but I’m always excited when a film leans on other narrative techniques to keep its audience engaged. Talk to Me easily keeps you on the edge of your seat without trying to make you second-guess what’s going to happen next. It’s also been touted as one of the scariest films of the year and, while this wasn’t my experience of the movie, I also wouldn’t necessarily take issue with that title.

I’m always interested in what makes a story scary. Sometimes it’s a shocking twist or a horrible monster. Sometimes it’s the jump scares. Sometimes it’s creepy faces or horrific gore or startling movements. More often, though, it’s something less tangible and harder to define. Something that picks away at whatever it is that allows you to feel safe as you move through the world and fall asleep easily at night.

A rotting hand reaches towards a sleeping Riley

After the movie was over, I spent some time thinking about why I didn’t find it particularly scary (though I did find it to be upsetting and unsettling) and I realized that, had I watched it as a teenager, it would’ve absolutely wrecked me. Even if I had watched it in my early twenties, a time when I was far lonelier, more isolated, and more vulnerable than I am now, I think parts of this film would’ve haunted me for days if not weeks.

And that’s because Talk to Me is able to tap into and explore a particular type of terror that thrives in vulnerable, isolated people. While I’m lucky enough not to be in that position anymore, I certainly have been in the past. Most people have, I imagine. Many still are. And that feeling of being unmoored and unprotected leads the mind to bleak, hopeless places. Talk to Me grabs its audience by the hand (sorry) and takes us to such places. Despite the framing device of Mia’s mother’s death, the film isn’t really about grief, not exactly. It’s about something thornier, more complex, and more widespread. It’s not specific to those who are grieving, but is shared by anyone who finds themselves desperate for connection and unable to find it.

Mia holds the hand alone in her bedroom

That’s not to say that Mia’s mother’s death isn’t important to the story. After all, what type of loss fragments a person’s sense of wholeness and connection more than the loss of a mother? And the film’s thoughtful study of Mia’s response to this sudden absence of security, comfort, and kinship is at the core of what makes it so smart and successful. It’s all too common for fictional characters to experience loss or trauma and come out the other end stronger, more sympathetic, more alluring and mysterious and morally-upright. Unfortunately for all of us, the same rarely holds true in life. Whatever doesn’t kill you doesn’t actually tend to make you stronger in most cases. More often, it wears you down further and further until eventually it may as well have just killed you in the first place.

The audience watches Mia get worn down, first by the real world and then by the supernatural. It’s so subtle at first, easy to overlook. Early in the movie, Sue is interrogating all of the children in the household about a party she suspects they’re planning. She pops her head into Jade’s room where Mia is hanging out on the bed with Jade and Daniel. When they all deny that they’re planning anything, Sue — the closest person Mia has to a parental figure — lightly, half-jokingly remarks, “Mia, if I find out there’s a party here tonight, you’re banned from this household.” It’s a moment of casual cruelty that’s laughed off by the characters but still serves to underscore how ultimately disposable Mia is to everyone around her.

Similarly, Mia’s bottomless need for connection causes her to undervalue and undermine the connections she already has. No matter how much love or care she’s given, nothing is sufficient. She needs more and would sacrifice nearly anything to get it. Her strongest relationship in the film is arguably with Riley, but this seems to be due more to the fact that Riley adores her unconditionally than anything about Riley himself. It’s the closest thing to the connection Mia’s looking for but, ultimately, she’ll never be able to find that connection because it doesn’t exist anymore. Her mother is dead. This dynamic will be the undoing of both children.

A close-up shot of Mia’s crying face.


Sophie Wilde’s remarkable central performance as Mia captures all of these complexities beautifully. Mia’s fragile, abject presence elicits in the audience the same queasy mixture of pity and disgust that many people — regardless of how empathetic they claim to be — experience when confronted with a person who is visibly suffering. Everything about the way Mia speaks, moves, and interacts with the world around her broadcasts how desperate she is for affection and attention. But this desperation only further repels people from her. And so she’s forced to move through the world with this enormous lack that’s impossible for her to hide. It’s exhausting and humiliating. Everyone can see it. And most people want to look away. But even more dangerous than the ones who look away are the ones who recognize this lack and are drawn to it.

The idea that emotional porousness creates a fertile environment for exploitation (supernatural and otherwise) isn’t a particularly novel one, even within the relatively narrow niche of possession stories. However, the naturalism, interpersonal insight, and unflinching emotional honesty with which the Philipou brothers and their well-cast ensemble of talented performers convey these themes makes Talk to Me stand out amongst an ocean of films attempting to tell similar stories. Mia and Riley, in particular, felt so uncomfortably real that I found myself genuinely emotionally invested in their well-being in a way that’s rare for me with movies like this.

Teens film someone grasping at the hand

In addition to a strong central conceit and excellent performances, Talk to Me excels on more technical levels as well. The pacing is sharp and tight, the sound design effectively amplifies the film’s scares (as well as its few well-placed moments of levity), and the dialogue feels contemporary and natural without getting too cute with it. Solid practical effects elevate some impressively gory scenes that brought to mind moments from both The Evil Dead franchise and — to my surprise — Society. Particularly impressive are a series of facial prosthetics that truly made my skin crawl. The few minor missteps in the film (an underwhelming cold open, some unnecessary over-explaining about Mia’s mother, a couple of supporting performances that don’t quite hit) seem like they can be chalked up to a sincere effort to make a real horror movie with all the trappings and somehow don’t take away from the atmosphere, pacing, or impact.

For a debut feature from a pair of YouTubers (no disrespect, but…you know what I mean), Talk to Me was shockingly brutal, well-crafted, and emotionally intelligent. Every time I thought it was going to pull its punches, it didn’t, and the film is all the better for it. I can’t recommend this one enough and I’m so excited to see what the Philipou brothers, Sophie Wilde, and Joe Bird do next.





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Written by Saskia Nislow

Saskia is a writer, ceramicist, horror freak, and queer creature. Find more of their stuff at or at @cronebro on Twitter and Instagram.

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