(L–R) Miranda Otto, Otis Dhanji, Joe Bird, Chris Alosio, Michael Philippou, Sophie Wilde, Danny Philippou, and Zoe Terakes attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “Talk to Me” Premiere at Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images)
By Stephanie Ornelas
Don’t talk to the hand, because the spirit world is listening.
When directors and YouTubers Danny and Michael Philippou saw a video of their neighbor experimenting with drugs, they were inspired to create something that would send chills down viewers’ spines. That “something” is their feature film debut, Talk to Me. And if the audience’s reaction at the film’s January 21 premiere is any indication, the Philippou brothers have accomplished their mission.
Viewers were visibly spooked as the credits rolled in the Egyptian Theatre, where the film screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Spotlight program. “Well, I’m not going to sleep tonight. So, thanks, guys,” one audience member quips before congratulating the film team during the post-premiere Q&A.
When grieving teenager Mia, and her group of friends discover an ancient embalmed hand that introduces them to the spirit world just by holding it, they become captivated by its powers. But when one teen goes too far, they’re left with terrifying consequences.
Talking about the neighbor that inspired the film, Danny explains, “He was experimenting with drugs, and he had a really negative reaction and started convulsing on the floor. And the friends that he was with were filming him and laughing at it. I remember seeing the footage and it was really scary to me and shocking. Those were some inspiration points for the film.”
Sophie Wilde delivers a remarkable performance as Mia, a young girl who’s trying to find herself after her mom tragically passes away. She doesn’t necessarily want to participate in this chilling “game,” but when she does, she’s thrust into the spirit world and instructed to do unspeakable acts.
Although her actions are horrific, her story paints a larger picture — one that reflects the dangers of thrill-seeking peer pressure and the consequences that arise when teenagers dabble in things they don’t understand. Wilde’s powerful final scene left Festivalgoers on the edge of their seats.
“Sophie was so down in terms of getting into character,” says Danny. “There were days she didn’t sleep, and she stayed up all night just to get into that headspace. Everyone was just super committed.”
As much as the film is centered around the “teen party craze,” it’s also about grief, and how when you lose a parent — especially at a young age — you’ll do everything to try and cling on to them, even after death. When Mia begins to perform horrendous acts on the people she loves the most, you can see the grief in her eyes even though her mind is clearly being controlled.
“This was my first time seeing the film, and I do think that it’s about grief,” says actor Chris Alosio, who plays one of Mia’s friends.
“My mom just passed away this past October, and seeing that film, seeing the way Mia reacted to the spirits sort of talking to her, I really think it represents how when you see someone come from that afterlife, you’ll listen to anything they say, especially when it’s someone we really care about.”