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Talk to Me (2023): Addicted to Possession



One young woman crying.
Talk to Me Promo Image

Talk to Me is a supernatural, psychological horror film is a gut-wrenching, emotional film that explores the horrors of a teenage life for Gen Z. Gabe talks about the film's brilliant approach to a delicate subject - addiction. Kat educates on the impact of loss and grief on the growing mind. Talk to Me is a Ghouls favorite in horror.


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Talk to Me (2023)

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.

 



Talk to Me: Addicted to the Supernatural

by gabe castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


Synopsis

Talk to Me is a supernatural, psychological horror film is a gut-wrenching, emotional film that explores the horrors of a teenage life for Gen Z and Alpha. Unlike Bodies, Bodies, Bodies which focused on the performative nature of the young adults whose entire lives have been perpetually virtual, Talk to Me shifts focus from a tongue-in-cheek tease to a deep, depressive wound. It’s a gruesome film that reveals a fragility in these teens that rely on found family, social currency, and the next fix. 


The film follows Mia, a teenager struggling with the recent death of her mother and the strained relationship with her father following that death. Mia is spending most of her time with a friend, Jade and her family including her younger brother, Riley. On the anniversary of her mother’s death, she is seeking an escape. Mia has become fascinated by group chat videos of teens getting possessed at parties. Despite Jade's skepticism, Mia decides to try it. During a late-night gathering with friends, they discover the possessions are real. Using a ceramic hand with a mystical connection to the afterlife, they follow a ritual: lighting a candle, holding the hand, and saying "Talk to me" to see a corpse. Saying "I let you in" allows the ghost to possess them for up to 90 seconds, as staying longer increases the spirit's desire to remain. 


The group eagerly tries it, becoming hooked on the intense and thrilling experiences it provides. However, when Mia uses the hand for too long, she inadvertently opens a door to the spirit world, inviting malevolent forces into her life under the guise of her lost mother. As supernatural occurrences escalate, Mia must confront her own grief and the horrifying consequences of meddling with the supernatural.


There’s so much I appreciate about this film. After watching it for the first time with my friend, Jeff, I ran home and begged my other two favorite people in the world to watch it - Kat and Mike. It was in this second viewing that I became aware of the intensity of the film. Now, when I strongly recommend the film, I always emphasize how gruesome it can be, that it is not a “happy” ending and that people should always check trigger warnings with horror movies. So that’s your warning for this episode, if you haven’t watched the film you should but understand your limits and it’s totally okay to close your eyes!


Séance Parties

In Talk to Me, a paranormal séance becomes a party. Not unlike the literal Séance Parties of the 19th Century when wealthy people would hold these ceremonies in their luxurious sitting rooms. Communing with the dead has always been en vogue. For this latest generation, the acknowledged connection to the other side doesn’t result in news coverage, fan fare or anything remotely newsworthy - it becomes a viral party trick. 


Consider how Gen X and Millennials dealt with the supernatural in films like Poltergeist, The Exorcist, and The Ring, with a strong, healthy fear and respect. In contrast, when Gen Z is handed a tool to commune with the afterlife and confirm its reality, they turn it into a source of entertainment, making fun group-chat videos and throwing parties with all their closest and least-favorite friends. This reaction is quintessentially Gen Z, and I find it delightful. While Millennials might be nihilistic and depressed, asking for the end politely and being desensitized to danger, Gen Z approaches the supernatural with a mix of sleep-deprived delirium and constant giggling, as if at a late-night sleepover. They don't exhibit indifference but rather a taunting dismissal of the fears they’re supposed to have, laughing in the face of supernatural threats.


The montage in this film is one of my favorite cinematic moments. The music, the performances, the camera movement, everything about it is fun and dangerous, just like this hand. Also, the fact that they share these videos through group-chats is funny to me, instead of making it a viral sensation or proving to the world that there are ghosts and that we can talk to them - they decide to fuck around and play with them. The flippancy of this behavior is revealed throughout in little moments when the severity of harm is commented upon but I think it’s the strongest in the brilliant ending. 


[spoilers - when Mia dies, we get a brilliant close of the film that's so heavy. Still reeling from her almost murdering of Riley, Mia wanders the hospital until seeing that time is passing by incongruently to her own experience. She eventually finds herself in darkness and hears the sound of a match being lit. She wanders towards the light to find a hand outstretched and she reaches for it, clasping and being met with, “I Let You In.” Now she is the spirit laughed at and mocked, yearning for the brief moments of being tied to the other side. For all the fun she had, she now she’s the horrifying cost of the party trick, these are real people who’ve died and are trapped here.]


Addicted to the Supernatural

One of the many aspects of the film that I appreciated was its approach to addiction metaphors. Clearly, the party trick acts as a stand-in for drugs. They tie the kids to a chair with the warning, "Trust me, you'll want it to be tight." The bliss and euphoria they experience, coupled with a release of inhibitions that lets them speak their truth and act foolishly, create an intense desire to do it just one more time despite the pain and discomfort that follows. They don't fully understand what happens when they're under—only the exhilarating feeling of being possessed. The 90-second rule mirrors the concept of overdosing and other real-world precautions in drug use. Mia goes over the 90-second limit “letting the spirits in” or simply getting addicted to the thrill. The solution to Riley’s possession and self harm problem is rehab, to simply stop doing it and his young body will heal. He experiences, albeit more intense and dramatic, withdrawals during the recovery period. However, even more significant than these blatant symbols is the reaction and stigma surrounding the use of the hand.


There is a strong judgment towards Mia when Riley gets hurt. His mother accuses her of doing drugs, making remarks that imply she knows Mia has a history with it. This stigma lingers around Mia, marking her as untrustworthy because of past mistakes. The older brother of the boy who died at the beginning of the film is shocked to hear they let a middle school boy use the hand. While for the other teens, the hand brings joy and is used as a party-only activity, Mia takes it home and continues the connection outside of social interactions.


For the others, the thrill lies in connecting with spirits and playing along with friends. For Mia, it is an escape and a way to connect with her lost mother. For her, it quickly becomes more than a social kick—it becomes a crutch. She uses it to deny her reality: the truth about her mother's suicide, her strained relationship with her father, the fragility of her found family, and her overall sense of being an outcast. She is alone.

Understanding that the hand is her addiction, evolving past her desperation to save Riley, makes the ending hit significantly harder. If we strip away the fun, terrifying supernatural elements, we get a story similar to Requiem for a Dream: a young woman abandoned by her mother who resorts to drugs, ultimately leading to her demise. It’s heartbreaking and in a film that mirrors an addiction journey, it offered us laughter, discomfort and excitement that quickly descended into chaos, pain, and tragedy. I do want to note that not all addiction journeys end like Mia’s or even depression stories like her mother. There is hope and there is a way out, it is a constant, life-long battle but it will get easier. Know that the people who love you would rather hold your real life hand than an embalmed one. That’s not always easy to see or understand when you can hear the water flowing from the other side, when the bliss of being somewhere else feels so much better than the darkness here. But there is a way out. One day, you won’t need that hand to connect to people here and gone, to yourself, or to your potential. 


Ultimately, Talk to Me brilliantly humanizes the real horrors of addiction, grief, and loss that shadow the characters. Its story and cinematography are exceptional, making it one of my favorite films and definitely on Gabe's top 10 list of horror movies. I appreciated Gen Z's flippant attitude towards the supernatural, deeply cared for Mia, and felt the pain of watching the gruesome events unfold. It is certainly not a film for everyone but it was definitely a film for me. 

 



Talk to Me: The Developing Brain and the Impact of Loss

by Kat Kushin


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


This film was a rough watch for me but not because of the quality of the content. It’s a really well done film, that was creatively and well shot, and that had a unique and impactful plot. But it was still a hard watch for me, even the second time around. I realized why literally a day or so ago because that’s how trauma sometimes operates, where you get activated by something and don’t really understand why until you’ve had time to process it. It’s kind of how I don’t really enjoy eating oreos, because of the texture. I think they taste good and people really love oreos, but for whatever reasons the texture just makes my body feel weird. So I don’t like eating them, but I recognize that that is a unique experience for the most part that is a reaction from my body and is not because there is anything wrong with oreos. That’s kind of how I feel about this movie, cause I think it was a great movie, but I did not enjoy watching it. There were scenes in this film I genuinely couldn’t watch twice, and had to get up and walk away during, and in hindsight, it’s because I empathized heavily with Mia, as I was in her shoes at a similar age and handled that loss very similarly. Where Mia lost her mother, I lost my stepdad. My way of coping was very similar, my attachment style was very similar, my self isolation was very similar. So minus the psychotic break, the injury of a child, and how it ended, it was pretty much bar for bar. Well, if you trade out the ghost hand for alcohol at least. So It was hard to watch her fall, and it was hard to watch the impacts of that fall on the people she loved. 


This film was deeply emotional, on all fronts and covers heavy topics like suicide/parental loss/loss in general, grief, the dangers of unhealthy coping mechanisms, and found family. Mia is grieving the loss of their mother in a traumatic and unexpected event, and to cope escapes to her found family and a dangerous party game. She is described as needy, and clingy which when losing a loved one makes a lot of sense. When you realize the impermanence of life during a stage of life where you don’t have a firm concept of time and the future, this can drastically impact your attachment style. It’s also very common for the people around you to not know how to help you through that grief.  For other teens/peers who haven’t experienced loss in this way, those emotions and that need for connection can feel like a burden or even just overwhelming. Invasive and stressful. When boundaries are pushed it can feel uncomfortable to mediate that conflict because of the heavy emotions behind them. There are a few things I’d like to unpack in my section, one being the ways in which loss can impact the still developing brain, how loss can impact a family structure, and why in loss we may feel compelled to reach the other side quicker than those who have not yet experienced that.  


The Developing Brain and the Impact of Loss

Talk to Me centers on teenagers who are still in high school instead of college age kids. The difference here is important, because of where these characters are still developing the parts of their brains that manage memory and time. This is a big strength of teens as they are adaptable to change more than many other age brackets, but can have negative impacts when dealing with trauma without a strong support system. In an pamphlet /article titled: The Teen Brain, Still under construction from the Behavioral institute they unpack research around the developing teen brain. They say “Genes, childhood experience, and the environment in which a young person reaches adolescence all shape behavior. Adding to this complex picture, research is revealing how all these factors act in the context of a brain that is changing, with its own impact on behavior. A clue to the degree of change taking place in the teen brain came from studies in which scientists did brain scans of children as they grew from early childhood through age 20. The scans revealed unexpectedly late changes in the volume of gray matter, which forms the thin, folding outer layer or cortex of the brain. The cortex is where the processes of thought and memory are based. Over the course of childhood, the volume of gray matter in the cortex increases and then declines. A decline in volume is normal at this age and is in fact a necessary part of maturation. The assumption for many years had been that the volume of gray matter was highest in very early childhood, and gradually fell as a child grew. The more recent scans, however, revealed that the high point of the volume of gray matter occurs during early adolescence. While the details behind the changes in volume on scans are not completely clear, the results push the timeline of brain maturation into adolescence and young adulthood. In terms of the volume of gray matter seen in brain images, the brain does not begin to resemble that of an adult until the early 20s. The scans also suggest that different parts of the cortex mature at different rates. Areas involved in more basic functions mature first: those involved, for example, in the processing of information from the senses, and in controlling movement. The parts of the brain responsible for more “top-down” control, controlling impulses, and planning ahead—the hallmarks of adult behavior—are among the last to mature.” Meaning that the heavy things these teenagers were dealing with were all impacting their brain’s development, their relationships and how they view themselves as being safe in the world. While the brain is considered plastic in terms of the current trauma research, meaning it can heal from the impacts of trauma, trauma during such a crucial and tumultuous time in one’s life can be especially damaging. ESPECIALLY when the adults around them are not present for them in the way they need, and when peer groups aren’t providing safe social outlets. These age brackets are more likely to make riskier decisions when that is the social norm of their peers. They are also more likely to fall into situations that can mortally injure them, more than the ages surrounding this period. In many ways the teens in the film did not have the brain capacity to fully understand the danger and permanence of their actions. Given a different environment and with different supports Mia may have had a different outcome/ending because there are positives to the brain’s adaptability to change. In another article titled, What neuroscience tells us about the teenage brain | APA.org


“The adolescent brain was long portrayed as broken, immature, or contributing to problematic behaviors,” said Eva Telzer, PhD, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Developmental Social Neuroscience Lab at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “But in the last five years, there’s been a huge shift toward seeing the developing brain as malleable, flexible, and promoting many positive aspects of development in adolescence.” The verdict when looking at the research and the way trauma overlaps with the developing teenage brain is that teens are deeply impacted by their peers and support systems. When their support system is not present or even when that support system is not authentically present (for example: Mia’s support system not remembering their Mom’s death anniversary and the impact of that, and Mia’s father retreating into himself in his own grief so not able to be there for her in the way she needed as his child), escape as a coping mechanism can be especially damaging. It can increase the risk factors of addiction and mental health issues. 


How loss can impact a family structure

Loss has a deep impact on the family structure as well, where sometimes the grieving process of one family member may act in harm to another loved one’s coping process. What we see in the film is that Mia and her father grieve in conflicting ways and that this deeply damages their relationship. The loss of one parental figure is a quick way to parentify a child, and can lead to isolation. The two grieved in isolation from each other, Mia, needing to talk about it and needing affection and connection from the experience, and Mia’s father needing to just keep going, and not talk about what actually happened cause his heart and mind was struggling to accept it. It’s also hard for a parent to know what is appropriate to tell a child in this kind of situation, and out of intended protection, can withhold information “for the child’s own good”. Unknowingly this information can be the thing the child needs to cope and heal, and establish the trust of a family unit. The lack of clarity around the the loss of Mia’s mother and the feeling of deceit surrounding the how and why gave Mia too much space to fill in the blanks of that loss, her mind actively floundering to cling to something that felt less awful. It also impacted Mia’s coping mechanisms, seeking escapes from the information as that was what was modeled to her. When years later presented with the truth of her mother’s suicide it was an attack against her emotional barriers that she built up out of necessity to protect her developing mind. 


This isn’t to fault her father, who was just grieving himself and doing the best he could, but it is an example of how trauma can isolate a family. How concealing the truth of a suicide can actually damage the grieving process for the child impacted, and damage the connection of the remaining parent and child. If we don’t look at a problem and call it what it is we are creating space for that problem to repeat, we’re removing the collaboration and support necessary for healing. We are removing the protective factors that can help a developing mind recognize the signs in their own body and mind that something isn’t right. We’re removing a safe space to convey that feeling to their loved ones. That’s why when approaching suicidal ideation, an essential piece of preventing it is to call it out, name it, so that you can protect the people with those thoughts. You can validate those emotions, the reasons for having them and provide next steps that aren’t not being here anymore. It is so create a space where someone feels safe enough to tell you they are having those thoughts, or even just unsafe thoughts so they can get the help they need to get through it. Not talking about the problem just allows it to grow like mold under the floorboards until the foundation of the person you love crumbles under the weight of life’s struggles. 


Why in loss we may feel compelled to reach the other side quicker

When dealing with the death of a parental figure, especially from suicide there are a lot of statistics that are pretty damming. To lose a parent to suicide drastically increases the chances of a child following the same path. Similar statistics exist for addiction, and mental health issues. My personal thoughts on this as someone who was personally impacted by both of these things are that we stigmatize these things so much in society that we create a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts. American society dehumanizes addicts so much that many addicts never seek help because of the perception around it. We label addiction by the end stages of it without recognizing the initial signs and stages that lead to it, to the point that some people who are exhibiting addictive traits do not even recognize what they are doing as addiction. There is also how addiction is treated based on race and gender. Many families don’t speak about the addicts in their own families, removing their ability to help the next generation avoid the same fate. Similar stances are made surrounding mental health issues, and suicide of loved ones. The problem is hidden away, and reminders of it are dismissed or deemed too much. This doesn’t solve the problem, just allows it to grow under the surface, and coped with unhealthily, in isolation, in escapes. 


When dealing with loss it is natural to miss them and feel pulled to be with them again. The unfortunate reality is that sometimes this can be done subconsciously as well when you don’t have the context to name what you’re experiencing and dealing with. Mia in this instance does not even recognize the signs of addiction and mental health concerns in her own body, and assumes a reality where her Mom is still there to protect her.  

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