Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Johnny California: TALK TO ME

 by JB

This week, I am reminded of why I neither attend nor review many new horror movies.

I must say, I was totally snookered by the first half hour of the new A24 Australian horror import Talk to Me. Interesting premise? Check. Good performances? Check. Revolting special effects? Check. The film had me firmly in its clutches. But much like the film’s teenagers going too far with their amateur party seances, the further we get into the film, the more we lose our way. The filmmakers, quite simply, bite off more than they can chew; they paint themselves into a corner halfway through, and there is simply no workable narrative escape.
The Plot in Brief: Mia (Sophie Wilde) has been “adopted” by the family of her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) following Mia’s mother’s suicide. The two teenagers sneak out of the house with Jade’s little brother Riley (Joe Bird) to attend a party thrown by Hayley and Joss (Zoe Terakes and Chris Alosio, respectively). The two jolly party hosts propose a cool game involving party volunteers being strapped to a chair and inviting the spirits of the dead into their bodies by clutching a mysterious severed hand. (Joss informs the group that he got said hand, “from a friend who didn’t want it anymore.")

It’s all fun and games until Mia manifests the spirit of her mother. Things go from bad to worse when, against Jade’s better judgement, little Riley also plays “Spooky Handshake.” It’s not pretty.

ANNOYING AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL PAUSE: Though I wasn’t much of a partygoer in high school (more than 40 years ago) I would never EVER have allowed ANYONE to strap me to a chair for ANY reason when I was a teen. I enjoy NOT being strapped to chairs. Sheesh.
Being no stranger to horror films, I thought this premise was interesting and laid out in a concise and speedy manner. The second act, however, suffers from “How Do We Keep These Ghost-Balls in the Air for Another 30 Minutes?” Syndrome. Act Three has a bad case of “How Do We Fashion a Satisfying Conclusion Out of All This Spectral Nonsense?” Disease. Both maladies prove fatal.

I’m not blaming the filmmakers. The direction is solid, it’s just that the script never rises above Student Film proficiency. Pity.

MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT: This film implies that the dead are liars. Are they? They tell me they are not... but what if THAT'S THE LIE? I am confused by the dead.

I will say this: as the conclusion of this film darkly hints, the studio now has a property that is ripe for sequels, prequels, and offshoots. This mysterious hand could be sent on tour: to Spain (Habla Con Yo), to Germany (Sprechen Sie Mit Mir), or even Canada (Talk to Me, Eh?). Think of the sequel possibilities: Talk to Me Again; The Hand 2: Keep Two Hands on the Wheel at All Times; Talk to Me One More Time, But Like You Mean It, and The Hand 3: I Want to Hold Your Hand, Hand, Hand. I personally think the Australian filmmakers and the fine folks at A24 owe this severed, embalmed limb... a great big hand. (Sorry, I could not resist.)

BIG CAVEAT: One big reason why I might have hated at least 75% of Talk to Me is that it breaks the “Leave the Children Out of This” rule. With a few notable exceptions, I expect a movie to scare me without abusing children. What happens to the Riley character in this film is horrific and, though I realize that you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, mostly unnecessary. And Riley gets (SPOILER ALERT) pretty f’d up. I’m no shrinking violet, but I do have limits. Hey, writer/directors! Go pick on someone your own size. Sheesh.
I also must say that I am getting damn sick of every modern horror film having as one of its themes, “the trauma of loss.” This is becoming the great horror clich√© of the 2020s. You know you’re in trouble when Disney’s latest remake of The Haunted Mansion movie (Mini-Review: AVOID) also features this bilious trope. Who on Earth is sitting there in the theater, thinking, “Yes! Disney sure nailed it! I know that every damn time I ride The Haunted Mansion on either coast, I am constantly reminded of THE TRAUMA OF LOSS. I think Disney should re-name the beloved ride The Trauma of Loss Mansion. Sheesh again!

A FUNNY STORY FROM MY SCREENING: Two teenagers (what I am taking to be this film’s target audience) made a big show of walking out of my screening only halfway through, holding their middle fingers to the screen while muttering “Fuck this movie.”

Unfortunately, the theater was dark, and I could not see if said middle fingers belonged to their own hands or the SEVERED, EMBALMED HANDS OF DEAD PSYCHIC MEDIUMS!


1 comment:

  1. I think the teenagers were overwhelmed by their trauma of loss reflected to them by the movie