By Dwight Brown
NNPA Film Critic
(***) Every time they hold the hand and say: “Talk to Me,” something wicked their way comes. So, you’d think they’d stop. Right? No!
Hell hath no fury like teenagers left alone in a room with time on their hands. They’ll find trouble where there is none. That’s the premise of this mostly engrossing horror film.
Writers Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman know how to create compelling characters, seed their backgrounds, add distinguishing characteristics and propel them into situations that go beyond the human realm. As first-time directors, twin brothers Danny and codirector Michael Philippou guide a cast of young actors, who have a very natural presence, as they encounter something evil in suburban Adelaide, Australia. Game on.
A hand balanced on a severed forearm sits on a table. Word is if you grasp it a spirit will possess you and take you to another place. Some have tried it and bragged about the experience. Mia (Sophie Wilde) steps up in a room full of tweens and teens to try her luck.
It’s her destiny. Her mom committed suicide and she’s become a surrogate sister to her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), Jade’s very young brother Riley (Joe Bird) and a second daughter to Jade’s mom (Miranda Otto). Mia seeks answers from the great beyond through the supernatural. The crowd encourages her: “Do it! Do it! Do it!”
Weird things happen after Mia holds the hand. She goes into a hallucinating trance. One by one other kids try it. They’re egged on by two older adolescents, Joss (Chris Alosio) and Hayley (Zoe Terakes), who act like older kids buying beers for younger ones just to watch them throw up. The incorrigibles start the proceedings with a chant: “Light a candle to open the door. Blow it out to close it.” The deeper and more frequent Mia and the others go into the hand’s daze the crazier the real world gets. Things go wrong when little Riley experiments. The power of the hand is unleashed.
Mia, haunted be her mom’s death, needs answers and that’s her impetuous for experimenting with the five-finger demon. That yearning explains her torment and bad decisions. Her best friend is also dating her ex (Otis Dhanji), which adds tension. The needy protagonist and curious plotline are just enough to pull audiences through to the end. Scare tactics and macabre images will keep viewers on edge. Mia’s crossed signals with her adopted family add sorrow add mixed emotions to the mix.
The movie starts with a bang, and teen genre fans looking for disturbing horror films will get just enough of what they want. What’s on view is never plausible but usually engaging. Sometimes scary. Sometimes weird. Creepy. That’s because the Philippou brothers have a good sense of when to end a scene (editor Geoff Lamb), when to frighten and how to get emotionally peaked performances from a very young cast.
The ensemble never steps out of character, no matter how improbable the situation. While Wilde and Otto are the standouts, best supporting actor must go to the embalmed hand.
Obviously, this budget-challenged thriller was not made for a fortune. So kudos to its casting directors (Nikki Barrett, Kelly Graham), production designer (Bethany Ryan), costume designer (Anna Cahill), composer (Cornel Wilczek) and cinematographer (Aaron McLisky) for giving the film a feel that seems genuine in a genre where that isn’t even a requirement.
Talk to Me joins a swarm of other little horror films trying to bust out and make the big bucks the tiny indie The Blair Witch Project did years ago–$248M worldwide. That kind of success may or may not be in the cards. But a smart American producer would buy the rights to this project, cast up-and-coming young actors and start a franchise that could become another Scream locomotive.
Adolescents will relate to these kids. Genre fans may like to see a cursed hand drive Australians crazy. Stranger things have happened. Wicked is as wicked does.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.