The idea of a film made by YouTubers is enough to send shivers down the spine of any cinephile with a sense of awareness, but Danny and Michael Philippou’s Talk to Me doesn’t suffer from the issues one would expect. Very solidly-crafted from a technical level, the RackaRacka duo’s debut feature nonetheless disappoints in a surprising way: it’s simply boring.
The movie follows a group of friends who discover a way to channel spirits using an embalmed hand and get hooked on the thrill, only to take things too far and unleash an evil they don’t know how to cope with. It’s a good, old school ghost story told with a modern flare — but despite its admirable level of ambition, it leaves something to be desired.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film is that it doesn’t seem to have a clear understanding of who its hero is. There are two characters who could each effectively be considered the lead, and apart from them being friends, their storylines don’t really build off of one another as they should for them to be co-leads. One (or both) of the characters needed to be more developed for this movie to be compelling.
That being said, the teen actors do a surprisingly good job here. A lot of teen horror films suffer from stilted dialogue and inexperienced performers, making everything feel inauthentic. Although neither Sophie Wilde nor Alexandra Jensen has many credits to their name, their performances feel shockingly naturalistic.
Compared to most festival midnight movies, Talk to Me is surprisingly flashy and polished. It would honestly feel more at home on a major studio’s slate than in a festival lineup. However, that may not entirely be a compliment, as is the case with many studio horror flicks, this movie cares much more about shock value than anything else.
The most effective moments in the film are those which go really over-the-top with the gore. And while the movie doesn’t ever really show its budget, it does cut away rather quickly from the most brutal moments. And worse yet, there are only three or four genuinely upsetting moments in the entire runtime, with much of the rest of the film feeling disappointingly tame.
It’s really disappointing, because what we are left with feels like a bunch of wasted potential. There are clearly a lot of really interesting ideas floating around in the head of the filmmakers — and the concept is an absolute knockout — but the execution is mostly frustrating and dull. When the ending manages to be the most interesting part of the movie despite being entirely underdeveloped, there’s a problem.
Talk to Me is the type of film that could definitely be a breakout among mainstream audiences, but it’s a shame that it just isn’t very good. The strong concept and polished execution are good enough to make whatever the Philippou brothers make next into an exciting prospect, even if their debut isn’t all there.
Talk to Me is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.