There’s a reason why Talk to Me is currently the highest-rated horror film of 2023 on Rotten Tomatoes.
Danny and Michael Philippou’s feature directorial debut follows a group of teenagers in Australia who stumble upon an embalmed hand that can conjure lost spirits. The hand quickly becomes the group’s favorite party favor, as they treat it almost like a drug that they can’t stop messing with regardless of its threatening consequences. That is, of course, up until the hand’s true malevolence comes to fruition.
While a lot of Talk to Me‘s fear factor is built on its stunningly grotesque practical effects, the film’s true power rests in the sheer ambiguity of its ending and who (or what) may be behind the hand. But the hand’s magic has strict rules about how to use it safely, and those rules mean that our protagonist, Mia (Sophie Wilde), has been possessed from her very first encounter with it. And that detail answers all our questions about the film’s stunning last scene. Let’s dive in.
How does the hand in Talk to Me work?
Credit: Andre Castellucci/ A24
As explained by Hayley (Zoe Terakes) and Joss (Chris Alosio), Mia’s friends and the hand’s current owners, the hand either belonged to a medium who could contact the spirit world or a Satanist. While its true origins remain a mystery, we know that the hand was cut off from its original body — perhaps to permanently halt communication with spirits or to ensure that the door remains open forever — and was embalmed with ceramic.
There’s a whole ritual for using the hand to contact the spirit world. First, light a candle to act as a beacon to the spirit realm, and then recite the words “talk to me” while holding the hand. When a spirit appears, surrender control over your body by declaring, “I let you in.” To expel the spirit and close the door between the two realms, the candle needs to be blown out and the hand removed from the person’s grip. If a person dies while a spirit is still within them, then they’ll join the spirit in that purgatorial realm and forever wander in the dark with other lost souls.
There’s another rule, and it’s a big one. You must end the ritual within 90 seconds… or else. We find out the reason for that rule when Mia’s friend Riley (Joe Bird) starts mutilating himself after waiting too long. Breaking that rule also gives the spirits the power to stick around in the host’s body. This is exactly Mia’s fate by the end of the film.
Was Mia possessed?
Credit: Matthew Thorne/ A24
Yes, she was, from the very beginning. When Mia first conjures a spirit with the hand, you’ll remember that the spirit she lets in immediately takes a liking to Riley. The spirit mentions that they want him and warns him to run. After that, Mia starts seeing spirits around her, even when she’s not holding the hand — this is a major hint that the spirit never left. And while she does seem to finish the ritual, it’s entirely possible that it went over the allotted time, and a sneaky spirit simply latched on to an already-vulnerable person.
It’s a similar situation to what happened to the hand’s previous owner, Duckett (Sunny Johnson), as seen in the film’s opening scene. At the start of Talk to Me, we watch Duckett’s brother, Cole (Ari McCarthy), maneuver his way through a crowded house party as he desperately tries to find where Duckett is. Cole eventually finds Duckett alone in a room where he clearly looks unwell and begins stuttering that he’s been talking to the spirit of their deceased father, who has been telling Duckett to kill Cole and himself to stop them from unleashing evil. Duckett then stabs Cole and kills himself in front of everyone at the party. Mia has an eerily similar experience, but with her mom.
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Mia’s mother passed away a few years ago. For years, Mia assumed it was an accidental overdose, but her dad, Max (Marcus Johnson), has known the whole time it was a suicide. He even has her mother’s suicide letter, which he reads to Mia after her encounter with the hand. But her denial and grief understandably cloud her judgement, which the spirits exploit. Whenever Mia encounters her mom’s spirit in the film, whether through apparitions or when she thinks Riley’s talking to her, it isn’t actually her mom. It’s a malevolent spirit merely taking the form of her mom to mess with Mia.
We know the spirits can shape-shift; one of them even takes the shape of her father to try to hurt her. Both Mia and Duckett weren’t actually seeing their parents but evil spirits who were exploiting their grief and trauma to hurt others while possessing them.
What happens in Talk to Me‘s ending?
Credit: Courtesy of A24
Mia is determined to help Riley, who’s in the hospital after his terrifying spirit session. But Mia’s also possessed, so whatever she thinks will help Riley is actually just what the spirit that’s possessed her wants her to do. Mia’s convinced that she needs to kill Riley in order to save him, which would permanently keep Riley’s soul in the spirit realm forever. Remember, we’ve known since Mia’s first experience with the hand that the spirits have their supernatural sights set on Riley.
Mia kidnaps Riley and takes his wheelchair to a highway where she plans on killing him. Riley’s sister, Jade (Alexandra Jensen), arrives just in time to save him, but not before Mia jumps onto the highway herself and dies. Then we see Mia’s ghost standing in a hospital, where she notices that Riley’s fully healed — and that no one can see her. Mia’s spirit is walking amongst the land of the living for the last time. As the lights go out one by one, Mia’s transported into a dark realm where she sees one small, shimmering light. When she approaches it, she realizes it’s a candle that’s summoning her towards the new group of friends who now own the hand. She lets them in, and Talk to Me ends there.
Mia’s possession means that she died with a spirit in her, which is why she’s now stuck in their realm, though it’s still unclear why Riley was able to fully heal. Perhaps it was because the spirits wanted Mia all along and were using Riley to torment her into killing herself. Or perhaps it’s because they wanted one more soul, regardless of who it would be, so Mia dying was enough for them to let Riley go. Whatever the reason, we can assume from Mia’s death that all souls wandering in Talk to Me‘s dark purgatory were previously people who either owned or messed with the hand, which is especially terrifying when we remember just how many spirits Mia’s small group of friends were able to conjure by themselves.
Although Talk to Me‘s finale is a spectacularly twisted turn of fate, ending on a note that satisfies Mia’s story, it still has us begging for more — and begging to be let in.
How to watch: Talk to Me is now playing in theaters.