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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

'Talk to Me' Is Horror Made by and for the Internet Generation

Kids are going to do stupid stuff. But what does being terminally online do to IRL relationships when the entire internet is in the palm of your hand? In that world, what does real connection even look like?

These were some of the many questions posed by Talk to Me, the new horror film from directing duo Danny and Michael Philippou. This movie isn’t really about the internet, which forms an invisible presence in the background, reaching in to influence the characters’ lives. In that way, it’s not unlike the deceased spirits the film’s protagonists are trying to contact.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Talk to Me centers on Mia (Sophia Wild), a teenager who became close with brother-sister pair Riley and Jade (Joe Bird and Alexandra Jensen) following the death of her mother. At a house party, one of the trio’s friends produces a mysterious ceramic hand, etched with cryptic writing. Light a candle, hold the hand, say the titular line, and the totem can bring anyone face-to-face with a random dead person’s ghost. With another voice command, the hand can even let the spirit into their body for a short while.

While the premise sounds like so many other movies about teens dabbling in the dark arts, each of the seances are shot like they’re in your stoner friend’s basement in college. One by one, the kids are possessed while the others pull out their phones and laugh at how strung out they get. Then the kids post the videos online, despite their friends’ protests.

With this framing, much of the horror in the film comes not from nameless hell spawn, but from the callousness with which peers bully each other—and the fear of losing what found family you still have. In fact, for much of the film, letting a dead person possess the kids’ bodies is almost portrayed as harmless fun. Don’t stay possessed for too long; don’t take too high a dose of the underworld—but as long as you’re safe, it should 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 that extra weight when the phones come out. Kids are being peer-pressured to take a hit of supernatural powers that none of them can control. And when they get freaked out or terrified by what they experience, well, that’s #content, baby.

Talk to Me doesn’t dwell on the internet itself—there’s no montage of likes and comments or even any indication of whether anyone’s watching the videos at all. The movie concerns itself more with how the pressure to perform can affect the person who’s captured on camera.

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It’s an added dimension in a horror film that manages to keep audiences on edge while exploring how difficult it can be to find safe connections and community in the midst of tragedy.

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