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  • Rebecca Yang

Talk to Me (2023): Using Possession to Cope with Grief


With horror classics such as I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and recent releases like Bodies, Bodies, Bodies (2022), the horror film trope of “teen fun gone wrong” has proven to be tried and true. Thus, it’s refreshing to audiences when a film like Talk to Me (2023) provides a more surreal take on the genre, resulting in it being the highest rated horror film of 2023 so far (Screen Rant). Known for their intense live action horror comedy videos, brothers Michael and Danny Philippou explore themes of grief and trauma in their directorial debut Talk to Me.

Taking place in Australia, 17-year old Mia is struggling with the second anniversary of her mother’s suicide. She has a distant relationship with her father, thus causing her to have a more familial relationship with her best friend Jade and her family, consisting of Jade’s mother and younger brother Riley. One night, Mia, Jade, and Riley go to a party hosted by their classmates Haley and Joss where the main attraction is a severed embalmed hand that can conjure spirits. Mia volunteers to interact with the hand, saying “Talk to me” as she holds the hand and a candle is lit, allowing her to see a spirit. She then says “I let you in,” causing full possession to take place. In order to stop the possession, the hand must detach from the person possessed and the candle must be blown out within 90 seconds. However, the spirit possessing Mia resists at first and the group isn’t able to stop the possession until after the 90 seconds. Despite that intense scare, the group gathers again at Jade’s house the next night where Riley now volunteers. He is possessed by Mia’s mom, who speaks to Mia. In an effort to keep communicating with her mom, Mia prevents the group from stopping the possession, resulting in the time limit to be exceeded. Riley’s body is fully overtaken by spirits and he brutally smashes his face into a table and performs acts of self-mutilation. In the aftermath, Riley is hospitalized, the group is traumatized, and the following events of the film focus on Mia spiraling deeper into her grief as Jade and Jade’s mother turn her away and Mia begins seeing visions of her mother’s spirit.

The act of possession in this film acts as an almost metaphor for drugs. Interacting with spirits is seen as the cool thing to do at parties and characters literally act as if they are high after being possessed. Through this comparison, Talk to Me displays how dealing with grief can be a destructive force in a person’s life. Mia at first experiences the fun of possession as an escape, but eventually becomes reliant on the interaction with spirits to make sense of her mother’s death. “Talking” to the hand becomes her way of coping with death and guilt as her mental state deteriorates. Sophie Wilde’s performance as Mia is standout; she captures the character’s desperation for security in a brilliantly frightening way. Through her overt expression of the fear and anxiety Mia experiences, Wilde instills the same emotions of fear and anxiety into the viewers of the film.

The film’s visual effects and makeup heighten the impact of the unapologetic gore and terrifying tone displayed. Whether it’s a person banging their head repeatedly against a tile wall or attempting to pluck out their own eye, Talk to Me does not hold back when it comes to delivering jaw dropping moments of violence. These moments are only intensified when accompanied with the immersive sound design of the film. What starts as a sweet or fun score can quickly transition to a musical emphasis on deep and eerie bass, making the sound effects of a slap or hit shock viewers.

Admittedly, the supernatural world-building of Talk to Me is vague in terms of how it doesn’t explain the origins of the severed hand, nor does it give further insight into certain visions Mia experiences. There is an ambiguous nature to whether some of what Mia saw and went through was real or not. However, this feels purposeful on behalf of the directorial team as the vagueness of the supernatural horror elements reinforces the idea that the less you understand something, the scarier it seems. The Philippou brothers ultimately succeed in experimenting with the depiction of grief as a supernatural experience as Mia, in the end, exemplifies the notion that like possession, losing a loved one is an unforgiving process filled with uncertainties and it can be a potentially disastrous part of one’s life. The future of the horror genre looks great when in the hands (or rather in a severed and embalmed hand) of people who are genuinely committed to producing the kinds of scares audiences have not seen before.

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