Australian horror is marvellous. Not only are top-tier actors seemingly in abundance over there, but their approach to horror is wholly unique (from a Western perspective). Wolf Creek and The Babadook are fab, but tune into Gary Kemble and, of course, Talk to Me, and you get some fantastically original new lore’s to horror’s pantheon.

Centred around the embalmed hand of a psychic person we never meet (sorry, medium!), a group of Australian teens appear to be the latest in a long line of dabblers in the macabre for sensory pleasure. This is the beginning idea that is introduced in trying to understand and explain Talk To Me. Once strapped to a chair, all you have to do is hold the hand in front of you and command of the spirits, “Talk to me” and BOOM, a dead person is right in front of you.

So far, so who cares, right? No, no, no. Because this film takes it a step further. Once the dead are summoned, you can invite them into your body by saying “I let you in” and voila, your body is taken over by the dead and you get a ninety second run of being a passenger in your own head and experiencing the world as the dead do in your body. Heroin, who?

talk to me explained

The ninety second part is key, though. And the inevitable candle that serves as a “door” between our world and theirs. Let them stay too much longer and they might not want to leave. Worse, if you die with the dead in you – and this becomes CRUCIAL because the dead have more agency than you think – then your soul becomes lost those spirits and, for some reason, they wanna hurt you (I’m a little fuzzy on if that is true or just a trick by the spirits).

Anyway, as Kesha once said, and these teens took to hurt, “the rush is worth the price I pay” – until it isn’t.

Allegory for Drug Misuse

This is the immediate reading of the film if you want to dive beyond the bloodied foreheads and mottled ghosts. The kids are all doing this for a laugh. Some smoke, some drink, everyone’s phone is out and recording (justice for Cookie!), and the entire thing feels like a twisted party game. You summon the dead like Faustus did Helen of Troy, let them gurgle for a wee while, and then send them back to whatever hellscape you tore them from. All of this in the name of a rush that Joss promises “doesn’t get any less powerful” no matter how many times you do it.

A drug user’s wet dream.

The problem is that, some people just can’t take the high, and not many can withstand when the drug’s shut the body down.

The three main characters to this film and Mia, Jade, and Riley. Mia’s mum killed herself not too long before the movie begins, and she’s taken to Jade’s family for comfort. Jade is a stereotypical teenage girl, and Riley is her younger brother. Mia loves this bloody hand, and if we substitute summoning spirits for doing lines of coke, it’s easy to see why. Mia is depressed AF and this high gives her some respite. But, while drugs are rocky for the mentally sound, they can be detrimental to those prone to mental illness, plunging them into a powerful cycle of continually abuse, which is what happens to Mia.

Exploration of Trauma

Two things happen pretty quickly at around the forty-minute mark of the film. The first is that Mia lets Riley dabble in the game. The second is that Mia’s mum (allegedly) speaks through Riley. As Mia’s mum begins to stutter her words so that Mia doesn’t sever the connection between living and dead, and therefore goes over the ninety second rule, Riley begins to hurt himself. In a really well-handled scene, Riley begins to smash his head against the table as the spirits within him try and kill him while they’re still inside. Mia, however, being in doubt as to whether her mother killed herself or accidentally took too many sleeping pills, doesn’t seem to care too much.

The loss of her mother has shattered the core of who Mia is, and the spirits that she’s conjured have forced their hands between those cracks and latched onto her in a pretty severe way. So severe, in fact, that she begins to see those spirits even when she’s not holding the medium’s hand.

And this is where an exploration of trauma is introduced. And explanation of Talk To Me in general. Mia is, quite literally, haunted by the dead and the looming figure of her mother’s suicide. The spirits, then, become more than a stand in for Valium or ecstasy, but embodiments of Mia’s trauma. While the two can go hand in hand, it’s important to include trauma along with the burgeoning addiction that could be taken from the film as it highlights why Mia is seemingly so affected by the game when others are not.


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These, however, could each just be the ramblings of a horror fan who loves to strip meaning from those horror stories that really touch him. You might disagree. You might have your own explanation of Talk to Me. But the fact that so much scope for interpretation is available to even a casual watcher of the film is impressive. Truly a testament to an overlooked producer of remarkable horror – the Aussies.

If I were to lambast the movie with one critique, it would be too maaayybbe try and cut down on the title cards. I know it was a collaboration, but did I need to learn more about Australian geography in those two minutes than my entire history degree? I felt like Peter Griffin in that Family Guy scene when he can’t figure out when the movie begins.

Talk to Me is an A24 movie that was released in U.S. theaters in July 2023.

Last Updated on October 1, 2023.

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