June 24, 2024

How The Babadook influenced Talk to Me

Talk To Me is a brand-new, critically acclaimed take on the possession movie. Directed by Australian brothers Danny and Michael Philippou – from a screenplay co-written by the former – it’s about a young woman, Mia (Sophie Wilde), who taps into the beyond via a hand. Talk to Me? Talk about talk to the hand.

You can read our four-star review of the movie here, while the official synopsis is as follows: “When a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill, until one of them goes too far and unleashes terrifying supernatural forces.”

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Alongside Sophie Wilde, the film stars an emerging cast of actors. These include Alexandra Jensen as Jade, Joe Bird as Riley, Otis Dhanji as Daniel, Zoe Terakes as Hayley, and Chris Alosio as Joss. Marcus Johnson and Alexandria Steffensen appear as Mia’s parents, Max and Rhea, and Miranda Otto plays Riley’s mother, Sue.

Dexerto chatted to directors Danny and Michael Philippou about the film, the inspiration behind the concept, and how their involvement with Jennifer Kent’s cult horror The Babadook influenced Talk To Me.

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How drugs inspired Talk to Me

DEXERTO: Where did the idea come from?

DANNY PHILIPPOU: I remember one of the initial sparks for us was these neighbours that we watched grow up – these three boys. One of them, growing up, was experimenting with drugs for the first time [and] was having a really negative reaction to the drug he was taking. He was on the floor convulsing and everyone that he was with was filming him and laughing at him. I remember seeing that footage, and it really terrifying me. So that was one big inspiration. Also, there was a short film that I got sent by our producer, Daley Peason, that was like a horror-comedy about kids having fun with possessions, and everything just seemed to fall into place. Once I did a rewrite of that short film and started writing, I couldn’t stop writing. So, I’d say that’s probably where it started.

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DEXERTO: It’s a possession movie. What are the rules that you play by in a possession movie?

DANNY: Well, we wanted our characters to have made up their own rules, but they don’t really know whether or not it’s actually how it works. We wanted the kids to be in over their heads and just not really understand what it was that they’re messing with. So the rules that we have got in the film don’t entirely represent the actual rules for possession. They’re just like the ‘makeshift rules’ that these kids have made up.

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DEXERTO: So does that mean then that the spirits have got their own rules and they’re just kind of playing along with these kids?

DANNY: Well, yeah. We wanted each spirit to connect with what each character was going through emotionally and mentally. And we wanted there to be good spirits, lost spirits, but also predator spirits that were preying on this window into the real world. So it was like one of our characters getting taken advantage of [by] said predator spirits.

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Talk to the Hand (but the face is listening).

DEXERTO: That’s interesting, because I wasn’t sure if everyone they spoke to on the other side was evil or not, but that’s not the case.

MICHAEL PHILIPPOU: No, it’s kind of like what the characters are feeling at the time, that’s the kind of spirits you’re going to attract.

DANNY: Mia is going through a really negative experience right now. So she’s having some dark thoughts and going through some really dark emotions. And that’s drawing in some of those darker spirits.

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The influence of The Exorcist

DEXERTO: You mentioned the real-life incident, but what movies influenced Talk To Me?

MICHAEL: We took heavy inspiration from Bong Joon Ho – Memories of Murder is my favourite film. The way that he’s able to merge genres so seamlessly – he can go from comedy to drama to thriller, in a matter of minutes. It’s the same as life. It’s, like, not just one emotion; it’s a mix of all different things. So, we really respect that about his work. And that was a big influence for us, to be able to not just be straight horror, or straight drama. It’s, like, being able to merge three things.

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DANNY: Even stuff like The Exorcist and Let The Right One In where it’s sort of balancing the drama and the horror as two genres as well. I think those are really powerful films.

DEXERTO: What do others get wrong in possession movies that you wanted to get right?

MICHAEL: We just wanted each possession to feel different. And we really wanted to tell the possession sequences or all the horror sequences entirely from Mia’s perspective. So you never see any spirits outside of what Mia is seeing. We wanted to really anchor it to her point of view. And I think that some horror films maybe get a little bit too crazy with their sequences; I think that maybe [sometimes] goes a bit too unbelievable. We just wanted to really ground our horror in a bit of reality and have our camera anchored to the spirits that are possessing the kids. I think it was more about finding a line where it doesn’t feel too unbelievable.

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How The Babadook influenced Talk to Me

Mia (Sophia Wilde) lets a spirit in… but breaks the rules.

DEXERTO: You both worked on The Babadook. There are thematic parallels, which are interesting. What did you learn on set there that you applied here?

MICHAEL: It was more the directing style of Jennifer Kent as opposed to the themes. I think [when] we worked on The Babadook, she was the first director that I saw that really cared about what she was making. She wasn’t just there for a paycheck. She wants to create art and she would do anything to get her vision [across], and I really respected that about her because everything that I saw [in what I] had worked on before then, it felt like I didn’t see the passion that I saw from Jennifer Kent. So, that was a mentality that we really were inspired by and we wanted to be like that. 

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DANNY: That’s right. But we worked with the same script editor, and the same producer that worked on that film. Their notes about character and script were so pivotal. They really allowed us to really explore everything that we wanted to talk about. And they would never let anything not be questioned. Every line of dialogue is questioned, every motivation is questioned. So we really were able to, with them, iron through those details. I think that Jennifer Kent had that available to her as well – Samantha Jennings as a script editor, she’s so powerful.

DEXERTO: Is there a real-life mythology that you drew from to create the mythology around this?

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DANNY: Well, there was a bunch of strange, rare occult books that I was able to track down. I remember reading a bunch of those and there was even a Satanist that we spoke to that I would run ideas by and things like that. And there’s some cool pages that you can find on the internet with people that sell old-school secondhand, odd occult books. So, it was drawing inspiration from everywhere. There’s so many different avenues…

Talk To Me hits screens tomorrow (July 28, 2023) while for more horror coverage head here.

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