Talk to Me centers around Mia (Sophia Wild), a teenager who grows closer to sibling duo Riley and Jade (Joe Bird and Alexandra Jensen) after the death of her mother. At a house party, one of the trio’s friends creates a mysterious ceramic hand engraved with mysterious words. Light a candle, hold out your hand, say the title and the totem can bring anyone face to face with the ghost of a random deceased person. With another voice command, the hand can even let the soul enter the body for a short time.
When a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill, until one of them goes too far and unleashes terrifying supernatural forces.
While the premise is similar to so many other films about teenagers dabbling in black magic, each session is filmed as if it took place in your best friend’s college basement. One by one, the children became possessed while the others took out their phones and laughed at their exhausted state. The children then posted the video online, despite their friends’ objections.
With this frame, much of the film’s horror comes not from an unknown hell, but from the callousness with which friends bully each other – and the fear of losing what you haven’t found with your family. In fact, for much of the film, having the dead possess children’s bodies is almost portrayed as a harmless prank. Don’t be possessed for too long; Don’t take the underworld too seriously, but as long as you’re safe you’ll be fine.
Things only start to go off the rails when the spirits become more familiar. This ties in to the film’s themes of connection, grief, and coping mechanisms. But what I find most fascinating is how the characters are egged on by the pressure of social media.
While that’s not the focus of the movie, it’s hard to avoid, given that the directors got their start on YouTube. The twins have been creating videos since before they were teenagers, and in at least one instance, one of them was arrested for a stunt that involved driving a car filled with water. It’s hard not to feel this extra weight when the phone launches. Children face peer pressure to accept supernatural powers that none of them can control. And when they panic or are afraid of what they’re going through, that’s #content, baby.
Talk to Me doesn’t exist on the internet: there’s no footage of likes and comments or even an indication of whether anyone is watching the video. The film is more concerned with how the pressure to perform can affect the person being captured on camera.
It’s an added dimension to a horror film that keeps audiences in suspense while also exploring how difficult it is to find safe connections and community in the midst of tragedy.