Mia (Sophie Wilde) is afraid of what she's unleashed in "Talk to Me." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Talk to Me, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, invents a frightening new mythology for conjuring up evil spirits. At its heart, they are still the dead trying to scare the living, but these feel more modern and palpable.
After a shocking introduction with unexplained violence, Talk to Me introduces Mia (Sophie Wilde), her friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and Jade's brother Riley (Joe Bird). They attend a party where Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Joss (Chris Alosio) introduce a mystical artifact.
Joss is in possession of a ceramic hand that's a portal to the afterlife. It gets to be a bit more specific than the average ouija board.
If you hold the hand and say, "Talk to me," the spirits appear. If you say, "I let you in," they will possess you until you release the hand. The host never knows what spirit will appear, and it's different each time.
The appearance of spirits produces well-earned jump scares. The practical makeup really conveys a myriad of different deaths and grotesque decompositions.
The procedure Joss and Hayley have developed creates dramatic build-up to the possession. Joss straps the participant to the chair so they can't get away when possessed.
Hayley times it for 90 seconds, because apparently after 90, the spirits won't leave. Well, during Mia's first time, around 83 seconds the spirit Mia connects with won't let go of the hand.
Wilde acts the hell out of the spirit's personality which is very different from Mia's.
Joss explains where he got the hand. A friend gave it to him, and Joss never questioned why that friend might have wanted to get rid of it.
Both Hayley and Joss heard different stories about what the hand is and how it connects to the spirit world. So its legend is ambiguous which makes it far scarier.
It's all fun and games at first as the teenagers experiment with this power. Jade's boyfriend, Daniel (Otis Dhanji) experiences a sexual and humiliating spirit.
Some of the spirits get so personal, it confronts the characters with really juicy revelations. But, it soon escalates into brutal self-harm which leaves the host's body in the hospital.
After that escalation, Talk to Me settles into a more familiar story of a spiritual curse. Mia and Riley experience the most with spirits after their encounter with the hand, but the film remains intense and graphic as the characters try to undo the curse that has followed them.
The characters are all intelligent teens exploring this powerful but dangerous opportunity. They are not caricatures to be killed off one by one, though they still can't avoid violence.
Talk to Me will also fit into the recent trend of horror movies about grief and trauma. Mia is processing grief over her mother's death, which she believes was an accidental overdose.
Don't worry, it's also totally about demon spirits and whether or not they are telling the truth. But, grief is one of the issues with which the characters are coping.
In success, the hand could continue to cause trouble for new groups of teens in Talk to Me sequels. The movie has enough shocks and an overall unsettling tone to leave horror fans craving more.
A24 will release Talk to Me.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.