The brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, who became YouTube sensations with their channel RackaRacka, decided to make a horror movie that has taken the horror world by storm thanks to A24. The movie is grounded in the reassuring familiarity of what we love about the horror genre today, but at the same time, it brings something absolutely new to the table. The authentic representation of teens today is a big part of why this movie feels so terrifying and so rooted, while at the same time having a visceral effect on viewers.
The success of Talk To Me stems from how naturally it depicts grief and how the main character, Mia, is a dumb (excuse my French) teenager who makes silly decisions that cause her and the people she loves so much pain. In interviews, Danny mentions the fact that he saw a neighbor having an episode because of drugs, and people around him were just filming him and laughing rather than helping him. This was a sort of inspiration for Talk To Me. We’re all so obsessed with social media, true crime, and other morbid experiences that sometimes we forget that they can actually cause permanent damage. Mia is a perfect representation of this addiction to dread, which parallels having to deal with grief.
Talk To Me solely focuses on Mia, who isn’t the most reliable narrator because of her sorrow from losing her mother. Two years on, Mia is still struggling to accept that her mother died of an overdose, possibly on purpose. Mia decides to join the haunted parties because she is looking to escape the thoughts of her mother and having to confront her feelings. When she realizes it’s an enjoyable experience to have a spirit enter your body while your eyes black out and you’re strapped to a chair (yikes), she feels the urge to do it more. It’s like having a great high for the first time and then becoming addicted.
From the beginning, we see hints of drug abuse in the story. Mia’s mother died from a pill overdose. When they do the seance, their heads fall back, and the visuals look very similar to a drug party, where a person gets peer pressured into taking just one drag and later finds themselves lost without it. When you let in the spirit, you give them permission for some time (90 seconds), but if you mess up, they prefer to stay. Of course, they have this incredible craving for life, and so they would happily take the chance if they were given it. Just like a withdrawal, if you don’t mess with the hand, the spirits get weaker and eventually have to leave you, but Mia’s so keen on getting that connection with her mom that she can’t stop using the hand. When Riley asks to participate, Jade (the smart one) immediately tells him no because it’s dangerous to put a young person through something like that. But on the other hand, Mia’s reckless because she believes just 50 seconds will do no harm. That’s all it takes for it to go wrong, though.
There’s no real lore behind the hand from Talk To Me; there are what we can call “fan theories,” and it’s just been through so many hands that no story has really stuck, which should be another reason not to use it because there’s no way you can go back to the source and figure out how to make things alright. Instead, even after having seen people die from it before, these kids continue to “play” with the hand until something bad happens again. It’s an infinite loop, and that’s why the end of the film hits harder than you can imagine. Even though it’s Riley who’s possessed, it’s Mia who gets tormented after the experience because she was the one so desperate to try and make a connection with her dead mother.
By the time Mia finds out her mother had, in fact, committed suicide, her grasp on reality is so blurred out that she doesn’t believe her very alive father. Sometimes, you don’t see that people are trying to help you when you’re addicted, but you see them as a threat. A person who is affected by drugs isn’t the only one who is hurt; it hurts everyone around them, including friends and family. We know that Riley, Jade, and Sue are family to Mia, but she’s the one causing them all the pain because of her stupid decisions. Mia is trying to find the answer to her mother’s death and the loneliness it’s put her through, but she doesn’t see those who are trying to actively help her in the real world. Instead, she finds her sanctuary in the seance parties, like another kid may find refuge in substances and partying because they want to be distracted from reality.
In the end, we never actually see what happens to Mia before she’s on the street after being hit by the car. Does she come to the realization that she’s been the problem all along, and so she saves Riley by jumping in herself? We also don’t find out if it’s actually her mother’s spirit or a malignant spirit posing as her, but if we want to go down the more morbid road, it could imply that because she took her own life through pills, Mia’s mother too got sucked into this kind of vortex of an afterlife that made her angry and vengeful. Lastly, it could’ve been Mia’s best friend, the only one who saw the damage of it all before it happened, who pushed Mia to save her own brother. I’m leaning toward the first option because it seems more apt for Mia’s character. Her arc is a positive one, even though she technically dies in the end. When her mother’s spirit tells her to kill Riley, Mia thinks for a moment that that might actually save him, but I think that’s when she comes to her senses for real.
Talk To Me subverts horror tropes, and instead of a final girl, we have a final scene that will haunt you for the rest of the time. Even though by that point, you already know that Mia is dead and in limbo herself, there’s something shocking about the way the foreigner in front of her tells her that he “let her in.” It’s a rather depressing ending, but that’s why it’s so impressive of Danny and Michael, who pushed it far to show the effects of playing too hard. There’s still so much fun to be had with Talk To Me because of how quick-paced it is and how it gives you all the thrill through the sound design and practical effects without relying on any kind of VFX or jump scares.
Talk To Me isn’t elevated horror, but it isn’t popcorn horror either; it manages to balance the best parts of these two genres and do its own thing, all while relying heavily on Sophie Wilde’s Mia. She does an incredible job of holding our hand (I had to) and dragging us into this terrifying journey that doesn’t even allow you time to realize how bad it’s really going to get.