Talk To Me’s Directors On Queer Inclusion & Making Audiences Scream
‘Talk To Me’s Directors On Queer Inclusion & Making Audiences Scream
Danny & Michael Philippou open up to PRIDE about the casual queerness of their stellar cinematic debut, the joys of making their audience squirm, and a potential sequel.
It’s a rare thing for a project to be both punk and polished, and yet somehow Talk to Me is just that.
On the one hand (no pun intended), the film is a no-holds-barred expedition into the gruesome world of horror — and make no mistake, this is a horror film — but on the other, it’s handled with such deftness and confidence, you can’t help but feel that you’re being led through levels of hell by an expert guide. It’s this delicate balance that underscores just how impressive it is that Talk To Me marks the feature film debut of Danny and Michael Philippou.
The Philippou brothers got their cinematic start as production runners on Jennifer Kent’s acclaimed horror film The Babadook and then rose in popularity with their cult favorite YouTube channel RackaRacka, where they honed their craft as filmmakers. This origin story is befitting of a movie that’s both exactly the kind of terrific piece of filmmaking that A24 immediately snapped up out of the Sundance Film Festival, and one that is gleefully, crowd-pleasing, anarchic, and terrifying.
The film follows a young woman named Mia (Sophie Wilde) who’s grieving her mother and has become close with her best friend’s family, which serve as surrogate siblings and a maternal figure (played with sardonic charm by Miranda Otto). Despite the warm embrace of the family, there’s still a separation and she feels an aching sense of isolation — particularly from her father, who’s struggling with his own loss. Things begin to change for Mia when, at a party, she has the opportunity to quite literally touch the other side by way of an embalmed mystic’s hand. Mia immediately takes to the rush and excitement of the experience — and it soon has dire and shocking consequences for her and those around her.
It’s equal parts terrifying and tragic and is sure to be showered with praise and put butts in seats. No surprise, its directors are having the time of their lives seeing the film in packed theaters full of gasping, squealing, and nervously giggling audiences. “There’s so many set pieces that you’re just waiting for that to happen,” Danny tells PRIDE. “The opening as well [gets] such a big reaction. It’s the most exciting thing, once you hear that crowd it’s the best.”
“We watched it in this big theater in Chicago, the Music Box Theater,” recalls Michael to PRIDE. “We were up in the back looking down on all the audience, like 500 people. Seeing and hearing the reactions was the greatest feeling ever. When you make a film and it’s hitting like the beats are hitting and people are reacting and everyone’s enjoying the experience together, there’s nothing like it.”
While the film will undoubtedly thrill theatergoers, there to test their nerve and tolerance for gore (the film does not hold back on the red stuff), for those seeking a deeper experience, more in line with thematically dense and thoughtful offerings A24 has come to be known for, that too can also be found here. While the film deals with a form of possession from beyond, like the best of the genre it uses all the tools at its disposal to not only entertain but to explore deeper and darker topics, in this case, it touches on suicide, isolation, drug use, and grief.
“It was just a therapeutic thing to write the script and express those things, we’ve had suicide in our family, and we’ve got that, that depression gene, or something,” says Danny. “And so it’s just tapping into those fears and really trying to be vulnerable and honest in the depictions of those characters.”
“It’s about connection,” adds Michael, who hopes audiences see Mia’s inability to address her feelings as a bit of a cautionary tale. “[I hope people will] be less afraid to express these feelings, even dark thoughts that you’re having and things like that. Talk about them, as opposed to bottling them up,” adding nuance and greater meaning to the film’s title.
But that’s not all: Mia’s need to use the hand for a sense of relief, rather than connect with those around is a clear metaphor for drug use, which was intentional, explains Danny, who also co-wrote the film with Bill Hinzman.“I think that pushing people away is not a good way to deal those things that bottling it down and relying on vices is like a really unhealthy way to deal with those emotions. I hope people are able to think about expressing a bit more,” he says.
The film also follows a new and exciting trend of casual inclusion. In the same way that this year’s Evil Dead: Rise and Yellowjackets have woven queer and trans characters into the fabric of their worlds without making it a specific plot point or patting themselves on be back for their virtuous inclusivity. Talk To Me features a gender nonconforming character, Hayley, played by nonbinary upcomer Zoe Tarakes. They steal every scene they’re in as the teenage delinquent who has turned a cursed object into the ultimate party favor.
How Hayley came to be, in their casually queer form, began in the most natural way possible: during casting. Danny and Michael were blown away by Zoe’s audition to the point where they insisted to producers that Zoe had to be in the film. “Casting Zoe, even though they weren’t ‘a lead, lead’. I said to our producer, I’m like, ‘I do not want to shoot the film unless Zoe’s available.’ That’s how much that audition meant to us. Because it was such an incredible audition,” recalls Danny.
“Zoe has such a commanding presence,” adds Michael, cosigning his brother’s enthusiasm for the young actor.
Once Zoe had the role, the directors then worked with them to help craft the character further. It was important to both Danny and Michael that the actors to embody their characters and connect with them on a deeper level. “That was something I asked Zoe once we were [adapting the character] and they were so happy to have that inclusion. It means so much to us for it to be there and be part of the world and just be normal,” says Danny. “I love them so much. I seriously love Zoe to death.”
Perhaps it won’t be the last we see of the character should this movie get a sequel. As for whether the Phillipous would be up for returning to this world for a follow-up, they excitedly respond in unison, “Talk 2 Me,” with a laugh.
“It’d be my dream to have a franchise,” confesses Danny. “I would love the opportunity to do a second one for sure. It’d be so cool.”