Danny and Michael Philippou praised for ‘highly effective’ debut feature ‘Talk to Me’

'Talk to Me'. (Photo: Matthew Thorne)

Danny and Michael Philippou’s debut feature Talk To Me should attract the attention of genre-focused international buyers, according to Sundance critics.

The horror film had its international premiere at the festival’s Midnight Section in what is the first of three global screenings ahead of SXSW and the Berlin Film Festival.

Sophie Wilde stars as lonely teenager Mia, who gets hooked on the thrills of conjuring spirits through a ceramic hand. When she is confronted by a soul claiming to be her dead mother, she unleashes a plague of supernatural forces.

Miranda Otto, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Otis Dhanji, Zoe Terakes, and Chris Alosio also star. The script was written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman, with Causeway Films’ Kristina Ceyton and Samantha Jennings serving as producers.

Writing for Screen Daily, Nikki Baughan compared Talk To Me to last year’s horror smash Smile, while also noting the “crowd-pleasing scares”, along with the popularity of its creators, who are known as YouTubers RackaRacka, “may well attract the attention of a genre-focused distributor or streamer”.

“Much like last year’s horror hit Smile, there’s much going on under the surface of Talk To Me,” she wrote.

“The screenplay, by Danny Philippou and the brothers’ long-time collaborator Bill Hinzman, touches on real-world fears: the death of a parent, the insidious nature of grief and loneliness, the lure and lies of social media.”

In his review for Deadline, Damon Wise commends the Philippous for “attempting to do something new with an old idea” in their “unnerving and highly effective” film, specifically “making the crossing of infernal thresholds seem like an awful lot of fun”.

“From the start, the most striking thing is that there’s not much in the way of a preamble and very little lip service to genre traditions,” he stated.

“The Philippous are respectful enough of modern audiences to understand that everybody knows now where the moral line is, so instead of the traditional setup — historically, a creepy, drunken old man yelling, “Stay away from Camp Crystal Lake” — they start with a micro-movie, in which a teenager turns up to a drunken party to look for his brother.”

“The brother is having what seems to be a psychotic episode, and, to the horror of the other partygoers, stabs his brother in the chest and himself in the face. It’s brutal and quick, serving as an apt overture to the main action, but will later prove more important to the narrative than it first seems.”

Variety’s Dennis Harvey was not as unanimous in his praise, writing that although “the elements are in place for Talk to Me to be truly creepy, shocking and mind-bending”, was a “disappointment they’re not quite smartly executed enough to be all that, as opposed to merely entertaining”.

He does, however, go on to state that as “recent mainstream-ish horror entries go, that result is still a cut above average”.

“Welcome resistance to rote jump-scares and a sleek, handsome visual aesthetic, along with solidly professional package contributions down the line, suggest the Philippous are fast learners who’ve already put their prankster days behind them,” he concluded.

Talk To Me premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival last October and will be distributed in Australia theatrically by Maslow Entertainment, with Umbrella to handle home entertainment in ANZ. Ahi Films will handle New Zealand theatrical.