'Talk to Me' directors explain the horror hit's shocking ending: 'We wanted to tell a tragedy'

Brothers Danny and Michael Philippou scored the biggest horror hit of the summer with the low-budget frightfest.

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: A24, Getty Images
Directors Danny and Michael Philippou on Talk to Me's bleak ending. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: A24, Getty Images)
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Warning: Major Talk to Me spoilers ahead.

Not that we expect, need or necessarily want our scary movies to have happy endings — or at least let our hero not be gruesomely murdered — yet the climax of the summer’s scariest breakout, Talk to Me, felt particularly surprising in its bleakness.

Maybe because we're accustomed to female leads in mainstay horror franchises like Halloween and Scream surviving. Maybe because its directors, twin bothers Danny and Michael Philippou, were previously known for their wild, daffier horror-comedy videos (even if they included a homicidal Ronald McDonald) as the YouTube duo RackaRacka.

But Talk to Me — in which a group of teenage friends take turns gripping a severed embalmed hand, allowing restless spirits to briefly possess the teens and delivering an ecstatic high — certainly doesn’t let its hero off easy.

Mia (Sophie Wilde) is already coping with the death of her mother and emotional distance from her father when she joins her in experimenting with the hand. Seeing it as a pathway to connect with the ghost of her mother, she fails to adhere to the rules — like only holding onto the hand for 90 seconds. She nearly kills her best friend’s little brother by letting him hold onto the hand too long, and stabs her dad in the neck in a hallucinogenic fit.

TALK TO ME, Sophie Wilde, 2022. © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection
Sophie Wilde in Talk to Me. (A24/Courtesy Everett Collection)

And then in the film’s final moments, she realizes that she has been killed, and is now one of those spirits on the other end of the hand.

“You write dark things when you’re in a sad place, and you take it out on the characters you’re writing,” said Danny, who penned the script with Bill Hinzman, in a recent interview with Yahoo Entertainment. The fact that he and his brother both immediately broke out into laughter after he shared that information (they’re a fun-loving duo who tend to laugh a lot during interviews) indicated that he might not have been sincere. (Either that or they just have a great sense of humor about their own dark times.)

But even as the script evolved, the plan was always for Mia to transition to the dark realm.

“That was always the fate of her character,” explained Michael. “We wanted to tell a tragedy, and Mia’s making the wrong decisions throughout the film and being stripped of every ounce of intimacy. I hope people will empathize with her, but then also understand the mistakes that she’s making. … And not make them themselves.” (More boisterous brotherly guffaws.)

The ending echoes what the brothers hoped to accomplish with Talk to Me: craft a multilayered story that wasn’t purely about scaring the s*** out of audiences (though they did that, too).

“We definitely wanted it to work as our horror film and as a drama film, and also didn’t want to shy away from the fact that it's a horror film,” said Danny. “It’s so fun to play with those tropes and be part of that world, and I just love the genre so much. So it was just a cool playground to be swinging in, dog.” (Laughter again.)

It helped having Wilde, the 26-year-old Australian actress relatively unknown to American audiences prior to Talk to Me, centering the story.

“We just knew she was special from the auditions,” Danny said. “It was a hidden gem that we found, and just to present [her] to the world feels so nice. She’s so talented. Every single emotion she conveys so well. There were never any bad takes on Sophie and she’d, even if we couldn’t verbalize certain directions sometimes, she just understood. It’s just amazing. Genuinely unreal working with Sophie.”

Given her fate, Wilde may not be as prominent in (or even in) a sequel, which was unsurprisingly announced in August as Talk to Me was Racka-racking up nearly $90 million worldwide from a budget of $4.5 million.

“Even when I was writing the first film, I was writing scenes for a second film,” Danny admitted before going fully Philippou. “With the mythology, we’ve got a whole 10 films in there, baby. It ends in space, baby!”

Said Michael, earnestly: “We wanted this thing to work as a standalone thing as well, but when you’re in love with the world and the lore and the ideas and the characters, you can’t help it.”

To which Danny added: “I’m excited for the film to just jump the shark and do six of them, and then everyone’s like, ‘Why are they still doing these?’ And they just get so corny and bad and nothing matters anymore. That’d be exciting.”

Talk to Me is now available on VOD and streaming.