“Talk to Me is a bit of an ouija board. It’s connected to the dead”

Twin Australian directors Danny and Michael Philippou on their supernatural horror debut

Talk To Me (2023)

In Talk to Me, grief-stricken 17-year-old Mia (Sophie Wilde) becomes fascinated by a viral Snapchat video of spiritual possession. She convinces best friend Jade and former boyfriend Daniel to join her at a séance and – using a ceramic embalmed hand that once belonged to a psychic – becomes briefly seized by a profanity-loving demon. Mia’s excitement leads to further séances and evil spirits attacking other Adelaide teens.

Perhaps fittingly, Australian twin-brother directors Danny and Michael Philippou, who are behind the RackaRacka YouTube channel, direct their fiercely energetic Sundance smash debut feature like men possessed – there’s little screen time wasted, from the vicious opening party scene to its gasp-inducing final shot.

Danny and Michael Philippou

How did you come up with the idea for Talk to Me?

Danny Philippou: The big inspiration was these three neighbour boys we helped raise. We watched them grow up and one of them was experimenting with drugs. He was having a really bad reaction to the drug, convulsing on the floor, and his friends were just laughing and filming him, no one was helping. I saw the footage and that image always stuck in my head.

How did séances come into the story?

DP: We think that everyone has a morbid obsession these days. Everyone’s so fascinated by death, ghosts, paranormal stuff or serial killers. That isn’t scary to people: it’s glorified and exciting.

The film reminded me of Jordan Peele and Ari Aster’s horror. Are you influenced by or interested in either of those directors?

DP: There was no direct inspiration. Maybe subconsciously everything we look up to and admire is embedded in our material. We love both of those directors and both want to produce our next movie.

Why did you use the suicide of Mia’s mother as a catalyst to push the story on?

DP: Every part of the film, I tried to draw on what I was terrified of. Our mother has really big depression issues and her mother committed suicide. It was always something that was in my head. I could feel myself getting those feelings at times. It was always the biggest fear for me, that I could fall down that path. It was always about finding things that tap into – or express – what terrifies me personally; terrifying thoughts that would just get into your head and stay there.

There were other things as well, as we were saying with those neighbour kids. You’ve got a responsibility when you are a big brother figure or a babysitter. I’d be terrified of hurting one of those kids or an accident happening on my behalf. Let’s say I’m driving this neighbour to school and then I crashed the car. The thought of that terrifies me, of having to face their mum. That’s embedded in there as well.

How do you divide the labour of directing a film between the two of you?

Michael Philippou: Danny is the one that’s mainly speaking. If I’ve got changes, I’ll be looking at things outside of the main action, I’ll speak to Danny and he’ll speak to the actors if it’s a big change I want to try.

Talk To Me (2023)

Do you believe in evil spirits or the supernatural?

MP: It’s something we’re fascinated by. I don’t know if I necessarily believe but I’m open to it and I love speaking to psychics and mediums. People who have ghost stories or haunted places, that fascinates me.

DP: Whenever we stay in a city, we always try to find out where the most haunted place is and stay there overnight.

Has your approach changed from making films for your YouTube channel to making feature films?

MP: Even before YouTube, we were crewing on films. I was a production runner, [did] grip work, we worked for stunt guys, Danny did lighting. We saw how film sets were run. It would’ve been more of a shock going from YouTube to film if we hadn’t experienced that. Because it is a lot slower and there’s a lot of people involved with it. It ’s not just us with a camera.

Did you mess around with ouija boards when you were younger?

DP: Of course. The film is a bit of an ouija board. It ’s connected to the dead.

MP: It’s a modern-day take on possession and the ouija board stuff where, back in the day, it was not encouraged to do those things. “Don’t do this, you’re going to attract bad energy.” Whereas this generation it ’s like, “Do that stuff, go into the dark and film it.” I was always scared of the ouija board.

The new issue of Sight and Sound

In this 21st-century cinema special: 25 critics choose an era-defining film from each year of the century, and J. Hoberman asks: what is a 21st-century film? Plus: ten talking points from Cannes – George Miller on Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga – remembering Roger Corman with a never-before-seen interview.

Get your copy