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{Overlook Film Festival 2023} Talk to Me

“That spirit is a [email protected]#$”

The buzz surrounding Talk to Me started at Sundance and has grown steadily louder as more audiences manage to capture the scariest movie I have seen in years. The founders of The Overlook Film Festival both mentioned just how terrifying it was. As I looked over my shoulder repeatedly on my late-night walk back to the hotel through the dark streets of New Orleans I am happy to say how right they were.

Talk to Me is The Scariest Movie of the Year

My initial instinct when reading the description of the movie was half incredulity, half cautious optimism. The entire movie revolves around a hand that could be from a mannequin or could be made from paper mache. The McGuffin essentially looks like someone’s abandoned cast. To say I was a little dubious would be fair. Holy shit, is it scary though.

The story revolves around Mia (Sophie Wilde), who, after her mother’s death, has more or less been adopted by her best friend’s family. Jade (Alexandra Jensen), Riley (Joe Bird), and mom Sue (Miranda Otto) have all easily made space for Mia as she comes to terms with her mother’s death which may or may not have been self-inflicted. The three head to a party along with Jade’s boyfriend, Daniel (Otis Dhanji).

At the party, the kids engage in a party game where they use a hand to conjure the dead. After briefly talking to the spirits they conjure, they can invite them in to briefly possess their bodies. Mia enjoys the experience. As a result, she puts together a small party at Jade’s house, where Riley talks her into allowing him to take his turn with the arm. He may or may not conjure the spirit of Mia’s mother and, during the possession, violently destroys his own face. Things go downhill from there.

This is an old-school horror movie. A24 can sometimes pick up a bad rep for championing scary movies that tend towards “elevated horror,” whatever that may be. Talk to Me is not that kind of movie. Much like Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, this movie celebrates the spooky. It uses violence, gore, and of course, brilliant creature designs to scare the hell out of audiences. Sure, there is probably a discussion of teenage drug use, depression, grief, and guilt hidden in the subtext of the film, but you need to work really hard to get there. They are valuable discussions for sure, but the subtext is well below the surface and does not force itself into the conversation. On face Talk to Me just wants to scare you.

Talk to Me Moves Quick

Everyone one of the characters is likable and operates as normal people might. We get mad; we get over it. We get a little jealous; we get over it. We get haunted by ghosts we conjure during a house party. We don’t get over it. The ease and chemistry of the family make the movie easy to watch. The pacing is near perfect as we watch all of the principals react to an increasingly desperate situation. It makes watching the film easy as well. It moves with a speed that makes the ninety-four minutes seem much shorter. Rarely do I want a film to be fifteen minutes longer than it is, but I could have had fifteen minutes of spooky spirits haunting our characters with ooey-gooey goodness that made me jump every time.

Talk to Me also understands how teenagers act. It treats them with a kindness that movies rarely do. They are more than foul mouth anti-authority troublemakers. They may be all of those too, but they are also loving, lost, innocent people who struggle to deal with the cards that life has given them. As a high school teacher, I applaud the Philippou brothers and their deft directorial choices that make our gang infuriatingly naive but easy to like. The movie really shines when that gang all gets to play together and riff off of each other. In fact, the middle of this movie has a kid on bikes feel that is still scary but has an adventure and whimsy that the rest of the film doesn’t need. This respite allows the audience to get their breath back before a final act that is terrifying and intense.

The final act is desperate and scary, and full of ambiguity that will have audiences talking. It’s also brutal and honest and will make you fear dark hallways and disembodied hands. Never has a candle flame been such a hopeful beacon and a cruel joke. The last five minutes are the best five minutes of a movie that was already incredible.

Get your sleep while you can because when Talk to Me comes out on July 28, you may have trouble getting a good night’s rest. Mark your calendars. Do not miss this one.