Possession; it’s hardly a new concept in the world of on-screen horror. But gripping Aussie hit Talk to Me gives it a fresh viral spin, conjuring up a load of interesting lore too, as it follows a grief-stricken teen who gets involved in a social media-based séance trend. Think Evil Dead meets Unfriended…
First-time feature-length directors Michael and Danny Philippou are no strangers to the power of the internet, having first made a name for themselves on YouTube back in 2013. “Every video that we did was, like, helping us build up to making a film,” the former tells GamesRadar+. “We were getting all of this experience and learning different elements of filmmaking so when it came to making a movie, we had some practice, which was awesome.”
“We were lucky enough that we’d spend time on film sets before, too, so we knew what we’re getting ourselves into in that environment,” adds Danny. “If we had just done the YouTube stuff then I think it would’ve been much more of a shock, but we knew what it was so we weren’t so taken aback by it.” Though he jokes: “I think we do still have that YouTube mentality, mind, the film only runs for 89 minutes… 94 minutes with credits… ha! We cut 20 minutes out.”
The twin brothers’ channel RackaRacka, which currently has 6.74 million subscribers, mostly puts out sinister slapstick content, ranging from wrestling clips and creepypasta collabs to shorts about a murderous Ronald McDonald. With Talk to Me, which is just as punk rock and energetic in its own way, though, the pair wanted to go down a more serious route, exploring themes of peer pressure, suicide, and loss, having been inspired by The Exorcist, Let The Right One In, The Vanishing, and their time as crew members on Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook.
“I saw it as our therapy,” Danny, who co-wrote the script with Bill Hinzman, says. ” I was writing to express things that I felt I couldn’t online. I didn’t feel comfortable enough with our audience. We love genre-dipping, and there is some dark comedy in there, but we didn’t want it to feel like we were making fun of the horror in the film.
“We wanted it to work as a drama and as a horror, and it was like, ‘What’s the balance? What’s the right amount to show?'” he continues. “It was always a constant discussion. I really didn’t want to make anything that felt exploitative or anything that felt like a splatter film. I wanted the moments of horror to be rooted in character, and to feel real. We didn’t just want to shock for the sake of shocking.”
“The film is ultimately about connection and we wanted everything that goes down to be earnt,” Michael interjects, when we ask about the movie’s infrequent bursts of extreme violence. “But we knew how important it was to not shy away from all that either, so the viewers understand that there are consequences for the decisions getting made. It adds to the tension as well, it’s like… ‘Don’t go there.'”
“There’s a scene where one character gets a glimpse at Hell and initially, that scene went on for two-and-a-half minutes. The footage we got… it felt like it was crossing a line and we were like, ‘Okay, let’s peel this back a bit,'” Danny chimes in, before Michael reveals, laughing: “There were certain scenes in there, like, ‘You’ll never get this past the censors’. So there’s little flashes that we hit; some of those gruesome things are in there for, like, a second. Two frames or something.”
Starring Otis Dhanji, Alexandra Jensen, and Sophie Wilde, Talk to Me centers on 17-year-old Mia, who is still struggling to come to terms with her mother’s sudden death two years ago. In an attempt to distract herself from the anniversary, she convinces her best pal Jade to take her to a late-night hang and introduce her to Joss (Chris Alosio) and Hayley (Zoe Terakes), who’ve become the talk of the school since they found an embalmed hand that can supposedly bridge the gap between the living and the dead.
At each of their get-togethers, the youngsters whack out the hand as some sort of party trick, and goad guests into having a go. Curious, Mia signs up and lets a nasty spirit into her body, but things take a terrible turn when Jade’s younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) seemingly becomes a vessel to Mia’s late mother – and the gang get reckless with the hand’s safety rules.
According to the Philippous, casting took a very long time, particularly when it came to pinning down their lead. As soon as Wilde auditioned, though, they knew they’d found the right woman for the job. The decision to have her play Mia cost the brothers $1 million in budget, given Wilde’s lack of big screen credits up until that point, so the twosome and their producers put their own fees into the pot to bulk it out again.
“We really fought for her. We just all believed in her, and knew that she’d knock it out of the park. She was so committed,” Danny gushes. “There were days where we asked her to not sleep, to come on set having not slept, and she would do that. She was a physical performer, she was emotionally committed. We have nothing but amazing things to say about her.”
“She just has such a dynamic range and is able to convey the subtleties of every single emotion, you know? Her performance felt genuine, it never felt fake or forced and you never had to cut around Sophie,” says Michael. “She took direction so well; she was just in it 100%. Anyone who gets to work with her in the future, man, they’ve got it all right there. I’ve seen the film so many times and there’s a scene… every single time I watch it, I get emotional and it’s all thanks to Sophie. She’s the best.”
On the flip side, the flick’s most recognizable actor is undoubtedly Lord of the Rings and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star Miranda Otto, who plays Jade’s mum Sue – and executive produced the flick, too. “In the beginning, it was a bit daunting because it’s like, who are we to direct Miranda Otto? ‘Oh, Miranda, can you, like, dial it back a bit?'” Danny laughs. “I mean, come on, that doesn’t feel right at all. But she was so open and collaborative. When we met her, she just immediately felt like a cool auntie and having her sign on gave us the freedom to cast more unknowns. So she brought so much to the film, and she’s amazing; so much fun to have on set.”
Since Talk to Me proved to be a smash at Sundance Film Festival back in January, the brothers have completed the script for another original horror, Bring Her Back, and signed up to develop a Street Fighter adaptation. They’ve already written some scenes for a Talk to Me sequel, as well. “We’re hungry,” Danny says of what’s next but that eagerness, it turns out, doesn’t eliminate any lingering jitters.
“We’re so nervous. Every single production,” he chuckles, shifting in his seat. “Even working on this film, I was so confident during the day and then at nighttime, I was like, ‘Oh my god, fuck, I feel like we’re not ready?!’ There was so much going on inside of us, a real yin and yang. But yeah, thinking about the next one is nerve-wracking.”
“I’m a bit different. I’m like, ‘You know, let’s just do it’. There’s gotta be something in the fact that you’re trusted with millions to make these things, regardless of what the reception is gonna be,” says Michael. “We’re told, though, that the second film is more important than your first film. The first film proves that you can do it, that you have a right to be here, and second films prove that you can stay.” Given the overwhelmingly positive reception to Talk to Me so far, we have no doubt about the Philippous catching on…
Talk to Me is in UK and US cinemas now. For more, check out our list of the most exciting upcoming horror movies heading our way throughout 2023 and beyond.