Imagine, if you dare, being temporarily possessed by a dead person's spirit while clutching a clairvoyant's preserved severed hand. Now imagine if partying teenagers spent their evenings chasing that rush and filming the ensuing supernatural mayhem on their phones. Such is the core premise of the Australian horror film Talk to Me, in theaters July 28.
"The way we describe it is, they use demonic possession to get high," says Australian filmmaker Danny Philippou, who directed the movie with his twin brother Michael.
A24 Sophie Wilde in 'Talk to Me'
The film stars Sophie Wilde (Netflix's You Don't Know Me) as Mia, who is grieving the recent death of her mother and spends a lot of time with her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen), Jade's younger brother Riley (Joe Bird), and the siblings' mom Sue (Lord of the Rings actress Miranda Otto).
"It's been a year since Mia's mum's death," says Wilde. "She feels this sense of disconnect from her dad and so she really invests herself into her surrogate family."
One night, Mia, Jade, and Riley go to a possession party where attendees are invited to grasp a dead medium's ceramic-covered hand and say "Talk to me," which allows a spirit to enter their body.
"Mia sort of gets addicted to using that hand and the euphoria it brings her," explains Wilde. "And then it all goes to s--- after that!"
When characters become possessed in the film, their eyes turn completely black, as you can see in exclusive photos from Talk to Me above and below. Instead of utilizing digital visual effects, the Philippou brothers — known for their popular RackaRacka YouTube channel — achieved the effect by asking cast members to wear scleral contact lenses that covered their eyeballs.
"I think there's always something a little bit off with eyes and VFX, so I really pushed for it to be practical, and then [we used] a bit of visual effects to fill in some of the gaps," says Danny. "We had to sit down with all the actors and make sure they were comfortable with having these scleral lenses."
"Intense" is the word Wilde uses to describe the process of inserting the lenses. "You have to push them into the back of your eyeball. That was terrifying," she recalls.
A24 Joe Bird in 'Talk to Me'
The directors also took a practical approach to depict some serious injuries sustained by Bird's character in the course of the movie. Wilde recalls the first time she saw the young actor wearing the relevant prosthetics as "pretty jarring. I was like, holy s---! My poor 14-year-old baby! Yeah, the prosthetics were amazing, that team was incredible and some of it was quite confronting." Such as? "I have a scene in the film [where] I'm in a room with like, 60 naked people, all covered in slime and blood, and some of them had these prosthetic masks on," she continues. "But practical effects just add to the realism of it."
The Philippou twins' directorial debut was much buzzed about when the film played at this year's Sundance Festival and prompted a bidding war that was won by A24, the home of many horror hits, including Hereditary, Midsommar, and year's X.
"It was honestly the most surreal experience of my life," says Wilde of attending the festival. "I mean, you make an indie film in Adelaide, and you know that it's f---ing awesome, and you hope that people also respond to that, but you never know. For it to have the response that it's had, to be picked up by A24, was unreal."
A24 Sophie Wilde in 'Talk to Me'
The Philippou brothers' first movie hasn't even hit theaters and their careers are taking off faster than you can say "Talk to me." The siblings are set to direct a new adaptation of the video game Street Fighter, which previously inspired a 1994 film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. While Danny confirms he and his brother are interested in rebooting the franchise, he is unsure if that will be their next project.
"Street Fighter was one of those IPs that we already have a genuine real connection with from before any of this, so that felt like a really natural fit," says the director. "But there's so many original projects that we're wanting to bring to the world. I'm not 100 percent sure what's next, but we've got a script that's done, it's another horror film [called] Bring Her Back, that we're about to shop around once the writers' strike is over. It's a unique one — I'm curious to see if we can get it picked up."
Let's hope someone lends them a hand with that.
Talk to Me opens July 28.
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