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Talk to Me

Dr. S and I have been waiting for this one.

Directed by Australian twins Danny and Michael Philippou, and based on a concept by Danny, Talk to Me (2022) looked to be a fantastic new take on possession horror. When a teenager comes to possess a seemingly-enchanted ceramic hand the artifact because the catalyst for a popular new party game: possession. Viral videos circulate of teens with black-washed eyes writhing as they're tied to chairs and spirits from beyond speak through them.

One thing to appreciate about this film is the writing: everything makes sense. Why would teens purposefully invite spirits to possess their bodies? Because it's a rush. It's described as exciting and amazing - as feeling good. With Mia's description of the euphoria of temporary displacement the party game finds logic, and the events preceding and following gain a sense of realism.

When Riley, Mia's surrogate kid brother, seemingly channels Mia's dead mother, the rules of he game are broken, and tragedy follows.

Everything I have to say about Talk to Me could be a spoiler.

We meet protagonist Mia on the day of her mother's memorial service. Mia's life is tragic: she's grieving the mother who committed suicide, and finds no comfort from the caring but emotionally-broken father who remains. Her sole support is the family of her friend Jade: Jade's mother Sue, and her little brother Riley. Jade herself is a terrible friend, forgetting significant moments like the memorial of her friend's mother, but Mia clings to Jade like an anchor in an emotional storm. The night of the service Mia convinces Jade to go out to a party, where the two witness the possession game for themselves for the first time - and Mia takes a turn.

Mia is a suffering, broken individual, without close relationships and struggling to cope with her sense of grief and loss. She can't believe her mother committed suicide, and focuses her rage on her father Max, whom she believes is somehow responsible. Hayley, the teenager who directs the possession games, describes Mia as annoyingly clingy, and they're not wrong: the film shows Mia's deep attachment to Jade's family, even when jade does not express the same level of devotion. The possession game seems to provide a sense of normalcy for Mia, in that she can take part in a popular activity with a group of peers, temporarily suspend her depression, and let go. The film does a phenomenal job building up the game, and making it a realistic source of entertainment. It's a party.

Until Riley takes a turn. While most of the teens in the film are 17-18, Riley is 14, and desperate to be accepted by his older sister and her friends. Mia feels sympathetic towards Riley, but lacks the emotional maturity to make good decisions on Riley's behalf. Jade rejects Riley's request to try the game, but when she leaves the room Mia gives him a shot. Everything changes when Riley seemingly channels Mia's mother, giving her a chance to say goodbye - and she breaks the rules to do so. While the rules of the game state a 90-second suspension, max, and the teens agree that. young Riley can only have 50 seconds, Mia pushes his possession to two minutes, giving the spirit enough time to grab hold and violently attack Riley. Chaos erupts: Riley smashes his face into the table in front of him repeatedly with sickening crunches and grotesque damage. He reaches his fingers into his eye socket to pull out his own eye, and when the teens try to rip the hand from his grasp he goes flying, and tries to smash his head into a corner. The possessing spirit is literally trying to kill him, to keep his soul in purgatory. It's violent. It's grotesque. It's well done. But this crosses a personal line for me: torturing a young child. I can't handle it.

Riley survives, barely, and the run of the film focuses on how to release him from the spirit's grasp; any time he regains consciousness he tries to kill himself. Actor Joe Bird is fantastic, but ... nope. I could barely watch.

The end sees all of Mia's fears really coming true, but in its final moments the film shies away from the body horror it employs throughout the rest of the film, pulling its final punch. It's hollow.

As a whole, Talk to Me is depressing as hell. It's well written, well acted, well designed, and I did not like it.

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