Twin directors wanted debut horror film Talk to Me to have a ‘human touch.’ The embalmed hand did the trick | CBC News

Australian twins Danny and Michael Philippou have turned their social media success into a big screen debut.

Known for making horror comedy videos on their RackaRacka YouTube channel, which has 6.74 million subscribers and more than a billion views, the pair directed Talk To Me, a horror film about a group of teens who use an embalmed hand to conjure spirits at a house party and end up dealing with some unexpected consequences.

Talk To Me had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where the U.S. distribution rights were quickly snapped up by indie production juggernaut A24. It also screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, South By Southwest and Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival ahead of its North American theatrical release Friday. 

The Philippou brothers’ YouTube channel, started in 2013, describes the pair as “Wannabe filmmakers on a rampage!” Michael says their early experience allowed them to constantly grow and expand their filmmaking abilities.

“Every video we did we were trying something new,” he said. “Even stuff that failed, you have to take that experience into the next thing you make. I think it was invaluable to just get the experience of making stuff.” 

The Philippou brothers spoke with CBC News about directing their first feature and channeling the house parties of their youth to help create a modern horror film.

A man with dark hair and stubble gestures as he stands next to a man with blond hair in front of a wall decorated with San Diego Comic-Con logos.
Michael Philippou, left, and twin brother Danny Philippou attend A24’s Talk To Me press line during Comic-Con on July 20, 2023, in San Diego, Calif. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

House parties get out of hand

In Talk To Me, a group of young people gather at a house party where they take part in seances conducted through an embalmed hand. Danny says the hand and the seances represent vices or other coping mechanisms.

“Whether it’s drugs, alcohol or sex or social media, I think that anyone who’s latching on to those things to get themselves out of a rut [is] going to end up deeper in that rut.” 

WATCH | The official trailer for Talk To Me: 

“We wanted to show those parties throughout the film dwindle, and get less and less, until it’s just lonely and sad.”

While the hand is the dominant symbol in the film, Michael says the script originally referred only to a nondescript haunted object. 

“Hands and human touch and connection was always very prominent in the first draft of the script,” said Danny, noting the hand was a physical representation of some of the topics they were discussing. 

“Once we found [the hand], it felt like it had been there the whole time.”

Under the influence of spirits

In addition to movies like The Exorcist, The Vanishing and Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder, the brothers say Talk To Me draws inspiration from their real-life experiences.

“The house parties were sort of based on house parties that we’d known and went to, and the characters were sort of based on people that we know,” said Danny.

A woman presses her right hand to a pane of glass as she winces in the background.
According to the film’s directors, hands and human touch and connection were ‘always very prominent in the first draft of the script.’ (Courtesy of VVS Films)

Michael said it can seem like something out of a horror movie the first time kids see somebody drunk or under the influence of drugs. 

“It feels like a different person entirely. It kind of does feel like a demon,” he said. “That’s them, and that’s not them at the same time.”

Social media scares

Social media also plays a prominent role in the film, which Michael says was inevitable, given their desire to make a movie that was current and modern.

“It’s a world we understand, it’s our job, social media and YouTube,” he said. “It’s what we’ve been doing for the last eight years.”

Right from the beginning, the brothers pursued the rights to use brands like Snapchat and Apple in the film to help the world seem real.

“The social media aspect, we wanted to feel really authentic,” said Danny.

The risks social media can present to youth was something Michael wanted the film to address.

“The idea of you making a mistake or doing something when you’re drunk growing up and it being filmed and immortalized is kind of scary,” he said.

“We all are trying to do things for attention and gain attention, and some people fall down the hole of getting attention in the wrong ways.”

Danny said they also tried to capture the spirit of peer pressure. 

“Even online, we’re sort of victims to it, and we’re made to think a certain way with whatever we’re consuming.”

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