Australian Cinema Receives a Shot in the Arm from the YouTube Generation

Australian Cinema Receives a Shot in the Arm from the YouTube Generation

Chances are you’ve seen some of the viral marketing material doing the rounds at the moment for A24’s newest horror film, Talk to Me. It’s a formula that has worked wonders for A24 since their inception – finding young, exciting filmmakers, giving them low budgets and complete creative freedom, and capitalising on our insatiable desire for scares at the movies, making back usually 10-50 times their budget in ticket sales. In the case of Talk to Me, the debut feature from twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, A24 stepped in at the distribution phase, securing the rights to the Screen Australia funded film after a successful midnight premiere screening of the film at Sundance in 2022. 

You might be wondering what all the fuss is about another A24 horror film. Aside from the fact that it is really good, this is a massive moment for Australian cinema and screen culture in general. 

The Philippou twins, known on YouTube as RackaRacka, grew up making short films together from a young age, and by 2020 were renowned for their high energy, audacious and immediately entertaining YouTube content. They always had ambitions of bringing their vision and energy to the big screen, and a couple of years ago their YouTube page went silent. 

Cut to August of 2023, and Talk to Me had A24’s biggest opening weekend at the box office since 2018’s sensational Hereditary. 

One could be forgiven for thinking, then, that Talk to Me would be an annoying pastiche of cinema and short-form internet content. The really exciting thing is that it is anything but that. 

The Philippou twins have marked themselves out as a talent to take notice of – Talk to Me isn’t just a great horror film, it’s one of the best Australian debut films in recent memory. 

The film follows Sophie Wilde as Mia and her group of friends as they discover that they are able to momentarily commune with the spiritual realm through the use of an embalmed hand. In what is a smart and nuanced metaphor for addiction and substance use amongst teenagers, we watch as they are entranced by it, they begin looking for connection through it, and as the film moves into its most memorable and horrifying revelations, become entirely dependant on it. 

For a horror film to really work on a level above simply startling its audience, something anybody can do with a cattle prod or a loud bang, it has to work on its own with the genre elements removed. One of Talk to Me’s great strengths is its character work, most notably with Sophie Wilde’s Mia. She is the audience’s hook into the film, and provides a deep well of emotion and tragedy for the audience to tap into, allowing the scares to land in a much more visceral, personal way. 

Which is not to say that Talk to Me falls squarely into the annoying “elevated horror” cliche that A24 seem to have cultivated over the last ten or so years. When it decides that it needs to get nasty, it doesn’t flinch as it throws the audience head first into some of the most terrifyingly visceral set pieces to hit our screens in a long time. The use of make up and effects in Talk to Me is incredibly effective and memorable, and there are some truly shocking moments of violence that had me picking my jaw up off the popcorn-covered carpet.

The film seems to tread a fine line between the “elevated horror” tropes of detailed character and prolonged atmosphere, and the gleeful abandon of the more straight-ahead meat and potatoes horror flicks of the 2000s. It has the atmosphere and vibe of The Babadook or Hereditary, but the guts and stomach of something like the terrific Barbarian from last year. 

In a lot of ways, this is where the Philippou brothers have marked themselves out as a singular voice in cinema. They haven’t followed the trends and conventions that have largely dictated horror cinema over the last ten or so years (to often great effect), but have instead taken things from these films that have clearly inspired them and used them to serve their own, new vision. 

So if you’re a fan of horror cinema, or you are invested in seeing Australian cinema flourish and reach new audiences, Talk to Me is a film that should definitely be high up on your list of priorities to go and see in a big dark room full of strangers. The fact that it opened wide across thousands of screens last weekend in the US thanks to A24 is a big deal, and a huge win for independent Australian film, and to see it do so well at the box office makes me excited and proud to be an Australian at the movies.

It certainly doesn’t hurt, either, that Talk to Me is the scariest new horror film I’ve seen in a while, and one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory. If this is what it looks like for filmmakers from the YouTube generation to make the leap to the big screen, then I’m all in. 

Jonty Cornford works at Uniting Heart & Soul leading their Filthy Hope ministry, and is the host of The Blue Rose Film Podcast.


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