Talk to Me’s Ending Was Always Meant to Kick Off a Franchise

Photo: A24

Talk to Me directors Michael and Danny Philippou name-check Bong Joon-ho as an influence on their A24 horror hit, which makes sense when you think about its tone. Like Bong’s films, Talk to Me careens between volatile emotions. It’s part giddy, vicious teen-horror romp and part Ari Aster–influenced trauma horror. These moods shift throughout the movie, but generally, it gets darker as our protagonist, Mia (Sophie Wilde), falls deeper under the influence of the hand.

The hand — a ceramic sculpture encasing the embalmed hand of a medium that allows the living to contact a random dead person in a spectral version of Chatroulette — is the film’s Pandora’s box and its primary antagonist. Its ghostly inhabitants are never identified in a denominational kind of way but behave like the demons in The Exorcist and other Catholic possession films.

Early on, the hand presents itself in the form of Mia’s mother Rhea (Alexandria Steffensen), who died two years before the story begins in what Mia has yet to accept was a suicide. “Talking to” her “mother” in the body of her best friend’s little brother Riley (Joe Bird) shocks Mia, who ignores the rule of never letting someone hold the hand for longer than 90 seconds. This mistake proves deadly.

As the story unfolds, it’s unclear whether the spirit Mia is talking to after she steals the hand and smuggles it home in her backpack is actually her mother. Demons lie, after all, and manipulate people by pretending to be someone that the person cares about. And Rhea’s ghost is telling Mia disturbing things, like that her father is not who he says he is and that she must kill Riley to save him from eternal torment.

The ending of Talk to Me is ambiguous and open to interpretation. This is by design, although it answers many of its own questions if you look at it closely. As Danny Philippou tells The Hollywood Reporter: “If you really look on screen carefully, all the clues are there.”

In the case of Mia’s mom, there are hints that the spirit is posing as something it’s not: Rhea’s “ghost” gets more waterlogged as time goes by, eventually turning blue and bloated. The sound of water appears in the mix, suggesting that Mia is actually possessed by the drowned woman she encountered the first time she tried the hand. She held on too long that time, too.

One thing that is not ambiguous is that the spirit is drawing Mia into its world a little at a time. But why? Does it want revenge for its own suffering? Does it feast on pain and sorrow, like Evil Dead’s Deadites? Or maybe it just wants companionship in the cold, dark void.

Regardless, Mia’s paranoia increases until she attempts to kill Riley — who she hallucinates as a decaying old man covered in sores — by dumping him out of a hospital wheelchair onto a busy highway. Fully possessed, Mia feels her “mom’s” dead hands on her shoulders: “You’re doing the right thing. Show him the way. I can protect him,” she whispers.

Suddenly, Mia wakes up and realizes what she’s about to do. That’s when Jade (Alexandra Jensen), Riley’s sister and Mia’s now-former BFF, comes rushing onto the scene. The impact happens mostly offscreen and is filmed from the backseat of a passing car. So we don’t actually see how Mia ends up on the highway a few moments later. Did she throw herself into traffic? Or did Jade push her — purposely or by accident, as she scrambled to grab Riley and pull him to safety?

A few moments later we see Mia get up, uninjured, and walk past Jade and Riley back into the hospital. She’s become unmoored from time. Riley and Jade recover, as does Mia’s dad, Max (Marcus Johnson), whom she attacked with a screwdriver during her hand-induced psychotic break. Mia watches all this as if through a one-way mirror: No one notices her or responds when she calls out to them.

Then all of the lights go off, and she’s in a terrifyingly black void. She follows the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel; it’s a candle, like the one she and her friends used to conjure spirits. A hand reaches out. She grabs it.

Staring back at her is a group of Greek teenagers, playing dumb games like their Australian counterparts at the beginning of the movie. Mia is dead, doomed to spend her afterlife on call as a Sartrean party trick for shithead adolescents trying to impress their friends. This might go on forever — or at least until the hands are destroyed.

There are two of them out there, as Hayley (Zoe Terakes) tells the teens at the party early in the film. “I heard it was the hand of a Satanist,” she says. “The other one’s just out there.” Is Mia haunting the same hand that drove her insane, which was smuggled out of Australia sometime between her death and reappearance? Or is it the Satanist’s other hand that she’s inhabiting? Here, a close reading helps as well: The hand in Australia is a left hand, and Mia is reaching out with her left hand in Greece as well.

That implies an international network of haunted hand-smugglers. Exploring the business implications of the drug metaphor could be a fruitful area of world-building for a sequel; perhaps Jade, Riley, and their friends could seek out the source of the hand in an attempt to free Mia from its clutches? That’s one possibility. Another, given the shots from Mia’s POV in the final scene, would be to tell the story of Mia’s hauntings from Mia’s perspective — like a horrific spin on David Lowery’s A Ghost Story (2017). More likely is the idea of spinning out Talk to Me in the style of a Scream movie, introducing different groups of characters revolving around the same mythology in subsequent films.

The Philippou brothers have been angling for a franchise since the beginning, and co-writer Danny says he wrote scenes for a sequel concurrently with the original script. “Because I was writing it for so long and we were redrafting and redrafting, you just can’t help but start writing other scenes,” Danny told Deadline. They’re coy on whether the sequel — A24 and the Philippous have confirmed that Talk 2 Me is in development — will center on the Greek teens, Jade and Riley, or a new set of reckless adolescents. “That’s a debate,” Danny tells THR.

The particulars of this universe are detailed in a massive mythology Bible the Philippous and co-writer Bill Hinzman developed for Talk to Me. That guide “breaks down every spirit that the kids connected with, why they’re connecting with them, all the people that have had the hand, where the hand came from, [and] what the actual rules are,” as Danny told Deadline. There’s more than enough material there, enough to burn through a prequel: The one thing the Philippous will confirm is that they’ve already shot a found footage-style prequel exploring the backstory of Cole (Ari McCarthy) and Duckett (Sunny Johnson), the brothers whose deadly confrontation is caught on phone cameras at the beginning of the film. True to the directors’ YouTube roots, it plays out entirely on social media.

Talk to Me’s Ending Was Always Meant to Kick Off a Franchise