In an age of remakes, reboots, and requels, horror fans have clamored desperately for something original. Or, at least, an original take on something pre-existing. The former is accomplished with great aplomb in A24’s newest horror, TALK TO ME, the feature debut from South Australian YouTube filmmakers (and brothers) Danny & Michael Philippou.

The film tells the story of a group of teenagers who, after watching viral social media videos of demonic possession, decide to take matters into their own hands — literally — by utilizing the Dark power of an embalmed hand of unknown origin. There’s a certain detached, desensitized approach to this dangerous game by the kids in question, which, frankly, works. They don’t ask questions; they don’t fear the outcome; they just… go for it. The film’s careless treatment of the severity of the situation is the perfect reflection of today’s spotlight-seeking, internet-fame-addicted youth — not to mention the perils of peer pressure.

Our lead, Mia (Sophia Wilde, in her feature film debut), is stunning to watch. Her grief over the recent loss of a loved one is palpable and raw. Wilde delivers a remarkable, believable, and tragic performance. She’s relatable, which makes her journey all the more upsetting. Riley (Joe Bird, RABBIT), plays a “younger brother” of sorts to Mia, whose big moment in the film will go down in cinematic history for reasons I can’t disclose on a website called “Spoiler Free Reviews.” He’s terrific. A surprise and welcome performance from Miranda Otto (THE LORD OF THE RINGS) brings a small yet much-needed dose of humor to the film …until humor is no longer welcome.

While the film’s premise isn’t quite new, its approach certainly is. It’s fresh, slick, and very “2023.” The Philippou’s may have gotten their start in viral video-making, but TALK TO ME is so much more than clickbait. Terrific pacing paves the way for suspense, eeriness, and some very in-your-face brutality. The film blends what you see very well with what you think you see, and for that, this jaded horror fan is grateful.

All this is to say that, at the film’s end, I had expected another twenty minutes. I didn’t see the ending coming only because I didn’t realize it was the end of the movie. The film’s climax feels like rising action, and while its ending is appropriate and satisfying, I had expected it to take the story further. Perhaps it’s for the best that it didn’t, and perhaps I misunderstood the tone of the film, but I can’t help but feel that being YouTube filmmakers used to short-format, get-in-get-out storytelling, the movie’s abrupt finale stems from their usual format.

This is not to say the film isn’t good. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times. As the audience’s attention spans shorten (due to viral videos and social media apps), this may just be the direction films are headed these days.

Despite this, TALK TO ME harbors a satisfying feeling of originality, some exquisite filmmaking chops, and practical makeup effects that oughtn’t to be forgotten come award season. While not quite as heady as an Ari Aster or Robert Eggers film, this A24 gem may bridge the gap between such “elevated horror” and your common Blumhouse faire.

TALK TO ME opens in theaters on July 28th.

Ricky J Duarte

[He/him/his] Ricky is a writer, actor, and singer. He's also the host of Rick or Treat Horrorcast, a biweekly horror movie podcast. He lives in a super haunted apartment in New York City above a giant, spooky cemetery with his evil cat, Renfield, and the ghosts of reasons he moved to New York in the first place. www.RickOrTreat.com

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