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22 Things We Learned from the ‘Talk to Me’ Commentary

“When you’re on set, everyday feels like you just got back from a war… but it’s the best thing ever.”
Talk To Me
By  · Published on June 28th, 2024

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits one of 2023’s best horror films with the Talk to Me commentary.

There are great horror films released every year, but 2024 is already shaping up to be one of the greats with gems like Exhuma, The First Omen, and Infested delivering fresh thrills. The coming months are looking even brighter with highly anticipated releases like Longlegs, Cuckoo, Heretic, and more. It’s in that spirit that we’re looking back at one of last year’s best horror movies and giving a listen to its commentary.

Talk to Me is a possession film that finds an extremely unique angle on the trope while also delivering fun scares, creepy beats, and some gory thrills. The filmmakers are currently working on a sequel, so we decided to give a listen to their commentary track exploring the story, production, and release.

Now keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…

Talk to Me (2023)

Commentators: Danny Philippou (co-director/co-writer), Michael Philippou (co-director)

1. They open the track saying that they’re not going to talk about the film’s themes or what it means as they prefer to leave such things up to viewer interpretation.

2. They credit Causeway Films for being a big help from the script-stage forward, adding that “they helped us take it out to market and get rejected by every Hollywood studio.” Apparently one of the big studios did say yes, “but they wanted to change the film too much.” They wanted the film to explain the hand’s powers and offer more details behind what it can do, why it can do it, and how.

3. The opening tracking shot took ten takes — and ten smashed doors — and was the very last thing they shot for the film.

4. Sia gave them “Chandelier” at a 75% discount as she’s from Adelaide, just like the brothers. They tried to get “Green Light” by Lorde, but they were turned down.

5. The overhead shot of the dying kangaroo in the road is “important… a reoccurring theme,” but they refuse to elaborate. (But the overhead shot at 1:27:05 is obviously related.

6. One of the teens is seen using an iPhone, and they had to get permission from Apple. Similarly, they also got permission to use Snapchat. Both were essential, in their eyes, as they wanted the film to feel authentic to teenagers/young people.

7. They gave every head of department a “foot down,” basically a card they could pull when they felt very strongly that something should be a certain way. The costume designer used hers regarding Mia’s (Sophie Wilde) yellow-ish sweater.

8. They would play Uno every day with cast and crew, and the losers would have to do an awkward social dare which sometimes included intentionally messing up a take.

9. Apparently the average goal on a film is to shoot 1.5 to 2 minutes (of the finished film) per day, but they were often averaging eight. Both of these numbers feel remarkably low to me, but I also don’t understand how movies cost so much to make in the first place.

10. The actor who plays the first ghost, who we see for only a second at 19:19, traveled from the inland, quarantine for three days, appear on set for roughly fifteen minutes, fly home and quarantine for three more days. “We just liked the look of him so much… we’re very specific about our demons.” Might just be a semantics issue, but demons and ghosts are different, no? Curious.

11. They draw a distinction between script and screen when it comes to intentions. “When you’re writing a script, there’s things you have to kind of spell out to make sense of characters and moments, but a lot of that can be conveyed through looks, glances, and audio atmosphere.” Visuals can be used in a similar fashion, but the sounds of a film are every bit as important in this regard.

12. Early versions of the hand included one that was attached to a board, but practice runs made it clear it needed to be more flexible and easy to handle. The artist who finalized the hand design completed it and immediately quit. They’re not sure why, although there were apparently rumors that something disturbed him. They made five copies as they expected the hand to break, but it never did.

13. The beat with Daniel (Otis Dhanji) sloppy kissing the dog was done using a puppet head — for the dog, not Otis — and then comped it together with a shot of the dog licking a snack.

14. Riley’s (Joe Bird) possession scene is an emotionally draining one, to the point that Bird would need time both before and after, away from the cast and crew, to collect himself. It was also physically draining, for obvious reasons.

15. They acknowledge that eye stuff managed with visual effects often looks a bit off, so they went practical for Riley’s eye damage scene. “We had to build Joe’s face on top of his face, so he could actually reach in and pull out the eyeball.” It’s one of the more graphic scenes in the film, but “if you saw our YouTube channel you know we can go a lot further.” They were constantly aware of finding the balance in having a dramatic horror film without going overboard with gore. Takes all kinds!

16. The overhead shot of the sink at 44:12 where Mia’s washing her hands features several bloody smudges that have meaning. “How many blood drops, that’s all there for a reason that we won’t talk about.” There’s also something of note regarding Mia’s nail polish. They keep doing this and then not explaining anything.

17. There was originally a longer scene of Mia and her father Max (Marcus Johnson) arguing after Riley’s incident, but they cut it despite loving the work by both actors. Mia and her dad are two people unable to connect, and arguing — caring enough to truly argue — shows a connection of some kind.

18. The transition shot showing Mia in bed, turning, and walking into Daniel’s arms was done with her standing up while people held Daniel’s prosthetic leg in place from above.

19. They drew inspiration from Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968) as far as having characters look directly into the camera. People keep thinking it’s drawn more from Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017), but while it’s not, “that’s not a bad movie” to be compared to.

20. The sequence where Mia goes to hell was originally two and a half minutes long. “We shot so much violent stuff, it felt too far.” They decided to just show it in flashes and glimpses, which made their producers happy as some of the stuff probably wouldn’t have passed the censor board. The scenes were filmed wide with a stand-in for Bird so as not to traumatize him, and then close-ups the next day with a more restrained ensemble.

21. They only had a few days of the shoot where they had access to a two camera setup, so they saved it for scenes like the emotional scene between Mis and her father as he reads her mother’s suicide note. They felt some pressure to save it for more action-oriented sequences, but the dual performances, each feeding off the other, was more important to them.

22. The font used for the opening/end credits matches Duckett’s (Sunny Johnson) bag — Duckett being the kid who kills himself in the beginning.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“We’re not gonna talk in slow motion.”

“Take a breath, Danny.”

“Parents would not let their kids hang out with us because we were really aggressive children.”

“That’s the only lens flare in the film.”

“When you’re on set, everyday feels like you just got back from a war… but it’s the best thing ever.”

“I’m so sorry if this was a terrible, shitty fucking commentary.”

Final Thoughts

Holy hell, do these guys talk fast and furiously. While some commentaries see gaps ranging up to a minute or more, the Philippou brothers don’t leave even a single second of dead air. It makes for a fun listen even if you occasionally get lost in what they’re talking about. Talk to Me remains a terrific chiller too, with striking visuals and spooky beats that come across even with the commentary playing. I’m not sure I agree with their choice to leave themes and such off the table — a commentary track is the exact place to discuss them — but I respect the desire to let viewers figure things out for themselves. Great film, great commentary.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.