‘Talk to Me’: How a Pair of Energetic YouTubers Made the Best Horror Film of the Year

Danny and Michael Philippou tells TheWrap about playing into genre tropes — and flipping some on their heads — in their A24 breakout

Talk to Me
Sophie Wilde in "Talk to Me" (A24)

Talk to Me” is, unquestionably, the horror movie of the year. A fast, funny, very scary campfire story about a group of Australian teens (led by the magnetic, mostly unknown Sophie Wilde) who treat a cursed hand that opens a doorway to the spirit realm like a common party drug. (“One more time!”)

What makes the movie even more impressive is that it was directed by twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, known mostly for their YouTube channel RackaRacka (with nearly 7 million subscribers), full of prankish, impish content that still exhibits a technical knowledge and playful willingness to experiment. (A video simply titled “DC vs Marvel (Avengers Battle)” has 74 million views.)

The Philippou brothers went from YouTube to having their movie released by A24 (to an incredible $10 million opening weekend, the biggest start to an A24 movie since “Hereditary” in 2019). A24 is also, of course, putting out a limited-edition line of merchandise. And you know what? They seem thrilled.

TheWrap spoke to the Philippou boys on the day that “Talk to Me” hit theaters and they were overjoyed. “We feel so honored that you even want to talk about our film,” Michael said towards the end of our chat.

“Talk to Me” is the latest in a long legacy of exemplary Australian horror movies, although the Philippou brothers weren’t that familiar with their home country’s genre output.

“We weren’t too well-versed in Australian cinema in all honesty. And it’s something that we’re only catching up on now is finding that Oz exploitation stuff and going back and revisiting things and being like, ‘Holy sh-t, man, we had have some balls.’ It’s pretty crazy. It’s nuts. That stuff is really, really raw,” Danny said.

Michael added: “It was like we just wanted to make a film that was current and from our point of view, so it was important for us to shoot it in Australia because that’s just our experience. We wanted to be as authentic as possible with the dialect, the characters, and it just felt Australian. Didn’t feel right doing it, shooting it anywhere else. It was just making something that felt authentic to us.”

And it does feel both authentic and current — the demonic possessions (or maybe “visitations” is the right word) are captured through the prism of social media. Before our main character Mia (Wilde) even goes to a party and grips the embalmed hand herself, she already knows about the gag because she’s seen it on TikTok. Later, when we see someone at the party participate, as they look across the room, they see a wall of cell phones staring back.

While the brothers have produced 165 videos for their channel, there were still some unexpected challenges that they encountered while making their first feature and point to a particular sequence (a montage of a party with various participants gripping the hand) as being tough. The séance sequence is set to Richard Carter’s remixed version of Edith Piaf’s 1957 song “La Foule” and is one of the film’s more dazzling moments.

“Michael was really specific with music, and he was able to find that track after sifting through hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of songs. And the sequence was designed to that music,” Danny said.

“And it was one of those things on set where we had two hours to get 50 setups, which the first AD said was mathematically impossible. But that’s why we had two cameras and a boombox. We just said, ‘Let us control the set for these two hours. And it was just balls to the wall. And we had so much fun filming that sequence and it was so much chaos. But I feel like there’s beauty in the chaos and it really translates on screen. You can feel the fun that we were having shooting it,” Michael said. “It was insane in there. And there’s so much B-roll, amazing, that didn’t make it in the montage.”

Because of COVID, the brothers had two years to cast “Talk to Me.” Danny said it consisted of “searching for all these people, talking to different actors, reading.” But once they saw Wilde’s audition tape, they knew that their quest had been worth it.

“It blew us away. We’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is who we’ve been looking for this entire time.’ And then we sent her three other scenes that were hitting three different emotions and she just nailed those, as well,” Danny said. “And then on top of that, getting to meet her and finding she’s the most genuine, beautiful person in real life. I was like, ‘Man, we have to have her.’”

But casting Wilde impacted the rest of the film, as the brothers were told that hiring Wilde would mean less money in the budget, because she wasn’t a “name” and couldn’t be expected to draw any additional box office revenue.

“We said take as much money as you want. If we get Sophie, it’s a win for us. Every day on set was amazing. You never had to worry about Sophie if she was going to bring it or not because she brought it every single day. Every take, she just understands the nuances of every single emotion and plays them so well,” Michael said. “We never had to cut around her. She had a magnetic energy that we saw in the auditions every day on set, all the way through the edit. And the audience sees it through the screen.”

The filmmakers generally fought to keep “Talk to Me” Australian. To that end, there’s a really heart wrenching scene with a kangaroo that’s been struck by a car and is crying on the side of the road.

“There’s a personal experience I had with a kangaroo and the screams that it made,” Danny said, making that sequence even more horrifying. “It’s a personal thing. I also love that we’re able to do our Australian spin on that dead-animal-on-the-side-of-the-road trope.”

(Perhaps the most famous dead animal on the side of the road in all of horror? The upturned armadillo at the beginning of 1974’s masterpiece “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”)

After “Talk to Me” premiered at Sundance, the Philippous were inundated with calls from filmmakers and production companies (they even made a really charming YouTube video about it). Stephen King and Steven Spielberg wanted to see the movie. And they wound up turning down some genre heavy-hitters too, like Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw, who wanted to distribute.

“The idea of A24, we respect A24 so much and their films and how much they put directors first. So that always stuck out to us above everything else,” Michael said. “But we do love all those filmmakers.” Even, you know, if they had to turn them down.

A24 also isn’t above the phenomenon of the horror franchise, as they have shown with Ti West’s “X” inspiring the prequel “Pearl” and an upcoming sequel called “MaXXXine.” And the Philippous have already started looking at expanding the world of “Talk to Me.” While they were making the first film, Danny said, they were writing a sequel, even if they’re not sure what form that would take.

“I’m caught between two worlds of figuring out if we were to do a sequel whether or not we’d explore whole new characters or still explore these ones that we’ve got. I love both just as much as each other,” Danny said.

The pair also created a thick “mythology bible” exploring everything from character histories to where the embalmed hand came from. And while they stress that they have a ton of other original ideas, they would love to return to the world of “Talk to Me.”

“If A24 gave us the chance,” Danny said, “we’d 100% jump at it.”