The embalmed hand is everything.
The disembodied forearm that conjures terrifying spirits in Talk to Me — the new horror sensation that thrilled audiences at Sundance and San Diego Comic-Con — is so essential to the film that it’s the only imagery featured on the official movie poster.
Yet it wasn’t even in the original script.
“It came in the second draft of the film,” revealed co-director Danny Philippou, who, along with his twin brother, Michael, are making their feature filmmaking debut after years of producing viral wackadoo horror and comedy videos under the YouTube moniker RackaRacka. The first draft, written by Danny and Bill Hinzman, merely had a placeholder: an unknown haunted object. At one point the object was going to be a book. “Thematically, we were talking about human touch and connection all the way through the script, so it just felt. It was there the whole time. And when we like really nailed it down and found it in that second draft, it was heaven.”
Talk to Me follows a group of Australian teens who go through hell while experimenting with the mystical artifact: the severed, embalmed hand of a powerful deceased medium. By lighting a candle, clutching the hand and uttering the phrase “talk to me,” they experience an intoxicating body high fueled by possessing spirits. The catch: there are horrific consequences to going under the spell for more than 90 seconds… which, you might imagine, one of the foolish friends ultimately does.
The Philippous used almost entirely all practical effects for the shoot, which included the instantly iconic hand: a prop so creepy it freaked out its own craftsperson.
“It was weird. The person that made the hand, that worked on the hand, they quit after they delivered it,” Michael says. “Apparently they had an uncomfortable experience with it the night before… Something happened that night… But they quit, and we felt bad, and we apologized.”
“They were scared,” adds Danny.
Have they checked in on this person? “They’re dead,” cracks Michael.
Audiences, too, have been scared to death since the film’s premiere at the Australian brothers’ hometown 2022 Adelaide Film Festival and subsequent bows at Sundance, Berlin, SXSW and San Diego Comic-Con. At a recent screening in their native country, “People were so hyped,” Michael says. “People were fainting,” claims Danny. “It’s happened in some of the screenings. One of the scenes is a bit intense. So people have been reacting, fainting.”
Critics, meanwhile, have been gushing. “There’s no doubt the Philippou brothers have possessed us,” wrote the Associated Press’s Mark Kennedy. "Born and raised on YouTube, they’ve crashed the party with a great debut. Welcome them warmly, just don’t shake their hands.”
The film, distributed by arthouse hitmaker A24 Films, currently holds a 96% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, an extremely high number especially compared to other horror releases.
Talk to Me has also drawn acclaim for its talented, relatively unknown ensemble, particularly lead Sophia Wilde (“Just to present her to the world feels so nice,” says Danny) and Joe Bird, who one critic declared delivers “the best possessed performance since Linda Blair in The Exorcist.”
The Philippou brothers, whose filmmaking chutzpah and infectious, good-natured energy earned them a huge YouTube audience that’s now expanding to Hollywood (they’re already in line to co-direct a new Street Fighter movie), are loving every second of it.
“When there's like an electricity in the room, like when people are resonating with it and the beats are hitting,” explains Michael, “it’s the best feeling ever.”
Talk to Me opens in theaters July 28.
Watch the trailer: