Talk To Me is talk of the town: YouTuber twins’ directorial debut one of 2023’s top horror movies
AUSTIN, Texas – With a 96 per cent critics’ score on the review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, Talk To Me is shaping up to be one of the top-rated horror movies of 2023.
And critics are calling the indie film, which opens in Singapore cinemas on Thursday, one of the scariest and buzziest of the year – impressive given that this is the first feature from directors Danny and Michael Philippou and has a cast of mostly unknowns.
But the brothers – 30-year-old twins from Australia – are already big names in social media.
They are behind the mega-successful YouTube channel RackaRacka, whose action-horror-comedy videos have been viewed more than 1.1 billion times.
Social media also informs the plot of Talk To Me, which sees a group of bored teenagers spurred by a viral video to perform a ritual for summoning spirits.
They use it to become temporarily possessed, and this turns into their favourite new game until one of them, Mia (Sophie Wilde), hears from her dead mother and things get out of hand.
The Philippous spoke at the South by Southwest media festival in Austin, Texas, earlier in 2023 – a few months after their movie’s world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival sparked a bidding war for its distribution rights.
Michael says he and his brother have always been drawn to making movies.
Growing up in Adelaide, Australia, they took their father’s camera and would always just be making stuff, beginning with videos of backyard wrestling matches with their friends.
And they quickly fell in love with horror films.
Says Danny: “One of my first cinema-going experiences was (the 2003 horror film) Freddie Vs. Jason and (the 2003) remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
But it was horror classic The Exorcist (1973) that left the biggest impression.
“It was so nuts, so scarring and so beautiful,” he says. “It’s at the head of the possession genre, and Talk To Me’s a possession film.”
To make the movie, however, the duo had to first overcome the film industry’s bias against YouTube creators.
Danny says: “There was a bit of a whisper on set, like, ‘These guys don’t know what they’re doing’.”
Michael adds: “There is a stigma attached to the YouTube thing.”
Yet it was YouTube that taught them valuable film-making skills, from writing to editing to creating visual and sound effects.
“So we’re on top of all of those jobs, and that really helped in post-production for Talk To Me,” says Danny.
In fact, Michael’s advice to budding film-makers is to “do as much as you can yourself, especially when you’re starting out, so you don’t have to rely on other people”.
“You just learn to do it yourself, and it’s so easy now with the tutorials on YouTube.”
The video-sharing site also taught them how to do things on a shoestring budget.
When they launched RackaRacka, Danny would pay for their video production costs by volunteering himself for clinical trials.
“I could never hold down a normal job, so when I turned 18, I did medical trials to fund my stuff.
“I would check into a hospital for two months at a time when there was a drug that wasn’t on the market and they didn’t know what the side effects were, so they’d get young males to test them,” he says.
He jokes that they do not recommend doing so to budding film-makers.
But “the part that we would recommend is to just always be making stuff”, Michael says.
From the time they were children, the siblings made dozens of films and television shows that no one saw except their friends, using tomato sauce for blood and other low-budget practical effects.
They would also volunteer on film sets and work for free just to learn the craft, Michael recalls.
That eventually led to jobs for both on the set of The Babadook (2014), an acclaimed Australian psychological horror film written and directed by Jennifer Kent.
Still, it was a big gamble when Australian production company Causeway Films agreed to make Talk To Me.
Says Michael: “It was a risky process. Causeway put its reputation on the line.
“We were going to do it all with a studio, but then we decided to go independent because we didn’t want to hand over creative control.
“And we’re just thankful that it came out really well.”
- Talk To Me opens in cinemas on Thursday.