SXSW 2023 was a crazy hectic time for film and television critics as the schedule was jammed packed with distribution hopefuls, all vying for limited venue screenings and the attention of exhausted eyeballs.
I managed to squeeze in multiple films in between the activations, the walking, and the sleeping. Below are the first two I’m excited to share. They’re not necessarily the first two films I saw, but the first I needed to tell you about. Look for these (hopefully) soon on a streaming platform near you. I think they’re both going to make serious waves.
SXSW 2023 Midnighters Roundup, Part 1 Entry
Talk to Me Trailer
Talk to Me
Using an embalmed hand, a group of young adults play a terrifying game of what they assume to be controlled possession. When one takes the obsession with the dead too far, no one is safe in Talk to Me.
Mia (Sophie Wilde) and her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) treat each other like the sisters they never had. Mia is slowly coming out of her shell since her mother’s suicide a year prior, and Jade spends her evenings juggling between her boyfriend Daniel (Otis Dhanji) and her little brother, Riley (Joe Bird). Online, they see what look to be videos of local kids taking part in terrifying seances, and wrangle an invite from local ne’er do well, Hayley (Zoe Terakes). Hayley is in possession of a tattooed embalmed hand of unknown provenance. Lighting candles and speaking a few words while grabbing the hand creates a link between the dead and undead which only the handler can see, but everyone can hear. There are specific rules for this macabre party game, but in order for this to be a horror movie, it’s not long before they become mere guidelines and, in a panic, ignored completely, resulting in a catastrophic accident no one has an explanation for. Mia believes she’s made contact with her dead mother (Alexandria Steffensen) but is she speaking to her mother’s ghost, and can the dead even be trusted?
Talk to Me is easily one of the most stylish horror films to recently come out of Australia, and shows incredible promise for first time directing brothers, Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou. Not skimping on the Raimi-inspired camera work, Danny and Michael treat what could easily be dismissed as a silly parlor game among silly friends into a modern “pick me” terror. A strong performance by Sophie Wilde elevate a simple ghost story to a tingly tightrope of trepidation as Mia’s obsession threatens to destroy the family unity she’s been so careful to build. Joe Bird and Zoe Terakes are no mere supporting characters as they round out a cast that include Miranda Otto and Marcus Johnson. Talk to Me (2023) is scheduled for wide thatrical release in the US, July 28 2023.
SXSW 2023 Midnighters Roundup, Part 1 Entry
Late Night with the Devil Image
Late Night with the Devil
Late Night with the Devil pits chat show host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) against not only the horror of Neilsen ratings, but a demonic entity as well. Told as a non-narrative documentary, Late Night with the Devil focuses on Halloween night, during Sweeps Week in 1977, when in an effort to boost ratings, Jack hosts famed medium Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), former illusionist turned professional skeptic Carmichael Hunt (Ian Bliss), and for added spice, Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), the sole survivor of a satanic cult with her therapist/guardian/author June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon). While this sounds like it could be played for laughs, it’s treated with deadly seriousness as the “documentary” charts Jack’s rise to fame through the tabloids, including his tragically short marriage to his devoted wife, Madeline (Georgina Haig). There are also scenes of the backstage chaos as the world rips itself apart at the seams when Jack tries to communicate with the demon inside of Lilly.
Due to the creative scheduling of SXSW 2023, I nearly missed Late Night with the Devil but I’m so glad I caught a later show. Writers/directors/brothers Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes recreate the Late Night Wars right down to the station break cards. You could practically smell the shag carpeting and feel the textured vinyl of the chairs on the stage. The comedy in this horror comedy is an affable, sympathetic thing as David Dastmalchian brings the warmth and easy nature to Jack Delroy that allowed him entry into people’s homes after dark. It’s his unintentional summoning of the demon that makes Late Night with the Devil such a fun watch.
Late Night with the Devil is still on the hunt for a distributor.