Features, Film, Interview

INTERVIEW: ‘TALK TO ME’ Directors Danny & Michael Philippou

"You just create stuff out of instinct."


Credit: Matthew Thorne

Talk to Me, the new horror film from A24, is about a lot of things– grief, alienation, a possessed plaster hand which causes anyone who holds it to channel malevolent spirits– but it’s also about modern teens’ tendency to film and broadcast their lives online, even when their lives take a turn for the horrifying. It’s a world that first-time filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou know well: the Aussie twins were raised on YouTube, and have amassed millions of followers under the nom de Tube RackaRacka. On the eve of the American release of Talk to Me, I spoke to the rambunctious duo about the dark side of online infamy, the thrill of working with actors, and the Brattle’s Thrill Ride Horror series.

BOSTON HASSLE: To start, I’d like to know a little bit about the background of this project and how it came about.

DANNY PHILIPPOU: There were these neighbors that lived next to us, these three boys that we were growing up with. One of them was experimenting with drugs for the first time, and he was on the floor convulsing, having a really negative reaction to what he’d taken, and the kids that he was with were just filming him and laughing at him. And that footage was going around Snapchat, and it really bothered me because I watched that kid grow up, and everyone’s laughing at him in this really vulnerable moment. So that really stuck with me. There was [also] a short film that a guy named Daley Pearson sent to me, about kids that were having fun with possession. And the two things just seemed to live together in a way, and so I rewrote his short, which was more of a comedy, and I turned it [into] more serious horror and inserted characters that I really connected with. And once I started writing I couldn’t stop!

BH: That’s one of the things that I thought was really interesting about the film. In addition to this haunted artifact and possession, you have this angle where these kids are live streaming their own possessions. You two, of course, got your start on YouTube and on the internet. Did your experiences on the internet shape the story?

DP: We just wanted to do a modern take, and if this thing did exist, man, kids would be filming it and uploading it. If you look up “possessions” or “Ouija Board” online, or any of these hashtags, you’ll see–

MICHAEL PHILIPPOU: Or anything daring.

DP: Yeah. Everyone’s trying to experience something like that, and wants to share it. There is a thirst for attention. And there’s positives and negatives to social media, but we [can] glorify some vices as well, and some things can turn ugly.

BH: Your videos are very much comedic, which is interesting to me, because I feel like a number of filmmakers recently have gone from sketch comedy to horror filmmaking– Jordan Peele, obviously, as well as Zach Cregger, who made Barbarian. Do you find that the skills and the instincts that you honed doing this sort of short-form comedy come into play in making  horror?

MP: I think it’s all kind of similar with timing. It’s evoking a visceral reaction, but it’s not laughter– it’s, you know, shrieking. So I guess it’s similar.

DP: It’s so hard to put your finger on. You just create stuff out of instinct. So maybe practicing the other stuff gave us the same sort of instincts for horror. It’s really hard for me to verbalize or put my finger on. But yeah, maybe!

BH: Another thing I loved about the film is the energy of it. A lot of horror films these days are very dark and downbeat. In this one, you have very serious themes, but there’s also a sense of exuberance and energy that I really liked. Was that a conscious balance that you were trying to strike during the film?

DP: Yeah. Michael put together this amazing temp score that we were editing to throughout the film, and there’s a rhythm to a lot of that music. We wanted to build up. Another thing that inspired the film was this car accident that I was in when I was 16. I remember that night having such force and such energy, and we were going from party to party, and then all of a sudden this car accident, and the whole night jolted to this weird stop. And then suddenly we’re in hospitals, and we’re disoriented, and the night seemed to slow down. So that was the pacing we were trying to capture, [along with] the rhythm of these tracks that Michael was putting together. And we were also terrified of it lingering on too many things, so we had 20 minutes of cut-out drama sequences, just to make sure that we’re keeping the rhythm going, keeping it moving.

MP: It’s weird, because one cut you make 10, 15 minutes into the film, even trimming out five seconds, it really affects things down the road. Finding the pace of the film is very interesting. There were a lot of lessons that we learned from that.

DP: Another cool thing: the editor, Geoff Lamb, edits from his house, and his family lives there. And so once we finished cuts to the film, we sat his son down, and his son watched it as well. So we’re all just watching. And you can feel it in the room when people are like, “Oh, what the…?” You can feel the energy shift when people are getting bored, or people are getting lost in the narrative. So that was a cool thing that we did: watch it with someone, and cut around that a little bit.

BH: I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the Brattle Theatre up here in Massachusetts is using Talk to Me as sort of a jumping off point for a repertory series they’re doing called “Thrill Ride Horror.”

DP: That’s awesome!

BH: They’re showing The Descent, and Drag Me To Hell, and Malignant is in there…

DP: Oh, this is so awesome! “Thrill Ride Horror.” I love that!

BH: I was wondering, are there any other films that you guys look to as inspirations for the sort of tone that you were going for, or other films that you think are sort of in the same vein?

DP: Well, not in terms of pacing, but in terms of feeling and being rooted in character are The Exorcist and Let the Right One In for me, in terms of horror

MP: And Memories of Murder, [by] the genre-dipping Bong Joon-ho. The way he can merge genre and have it feel of a piece and still the same story. Even though there’s funny moments, there’s sad moments, there’s tense moments, there’s scary moments, there’s action scenes, it’s all still the same story. When I saw that film, that was very inspiring to me, because life is never just one emotion, either. So it’s like capturing that on film and in the script.

DP: But in terms of Thrill Ride Horror– I love this new sub sub genre!

MP: Thrill Ride Horror!

DP: I’m trying to think of one. You’re talking about, like, kinetic and fast, and gets to the point–

MP: Shaun of the Dead!

DP: Shaun of the Dead! Yes! That’s a thrill ride.

Courtesy of A24

BH: I also really love the performances in the film, especially the leads. I was wondering if you’d speak to working with them, and how you put together your cast

DP: We were just so specific about what we wanted, and as soon as we saw them, we knew they were it. And we didn’t write really to any ethnicities or anything like that– it was an open audition, just trying to find who was right. It just came together, and every time that we discovered one of those cast members, it was like finding a piece to a puzzle. It was so exciting. We’re like, “Oh my god, there’s Joss! Oh, my god, there’s Haley! Oh my god, we found Mia!” And it was to the point that we fell so in love with the cast that Zoe [Terakes], who plays Hayley, even though they’re not a main character, I was not going to shoot the film unless they were available. Because that’s how strongly and hard it was to find the people that we really, really connected with. And in that rehearsal process really ironing out every beat.

MP: That was the best. It was the best going from the Zoom auditions, and going “Okay, you got the character,” to getting everyone in the room together in person. And then you’re shooting and rehearsing, and you’re seeing it come to life. It was exciting, but also a little bit overwhelming at the same time, because there’s some scenes with a lot of characters in it. And it’s like, “Oh, my God! The possibilities are endless!” You have such talented people in the room. Like, are we going to be really tied to what we’re aiming to capture? I remember the first day, [when] we did the group possession rehearsal, was the best. It was awesome.

DP: So many character dynamics. There’s so many subtleties in their faces and their performances when they really understand that they’re embodying those characters. We used to get so excited– “Oh my god, Jade’s about to have a scene with Sue! They’re going to be in the car together! I can’t wait for these two actors to work off each other.” Actors are awesome. It’s so cool.

BH: Do you have anything else lined up for the future? What’s next for you guys?

DP: Well, we’ve got a script that we’ve finished called Bring Her Back, which is another horror film. We’re super excited about that. We’re currently attached to Street Fighter, we’re super excited by that– we really want to do an action film.

MP: We’re writing another action genre one, and then a few other things as well. We’ve got ADHD. We’re bouncing between–

DP: Yeah, I don’t know what we’re doing or where we’re going. We’ll just go with the flow.

Talk to Me
dir. Danny & Michael Philippou
95 min.

Now playing @ Somerville Theatre

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