Sundance 2023: How ‘Talk to Me’ & ‘Rye Lane’ Embrace Their Genres
CairoScene editor-at-large and Tomato-meter-approved critic, Wael Khairy, reviews ‘Talk to Me’ and ‘Rye Lane’ from Sundance.
Sundance 2023: Talk to Me, Rye Lane
Talk to Me
Deeply grotesque imagery and a relentless pace elevates Talk to Me’s otherwise generic plot line into a rollercoaster ride of shocks and thrills. There’s a bidding war currently going on between studios trying to snatch the rights to this film, and it’s easy to see why. When Talk to Me gets released, it will attract a large audience of devoted fans of the horror genre. This is basically catnip for teenage thrill-seekers who venture into the cinemas late at night looking for a good time at the movies.
A film that addresses a generation’s obsession with viral videos, Talk to Me is centred around a group of friends who discover how to conjure spirits using the amputated hand of a medium. The kids gather around a table and strap one volunteer to a chair. The kid grabs the embalmed hand, and utters the words, “Talk to Me.” As soon as the words are said, the person holding the hand sees the dead. Since we're in a horror film, we can naturally expect the foolish kids to act irresponsibly. They get addicted to the adrenaline rush, and embark on the experiment one too many times.
Talk to Me goes through all the familiar tropes and beats we come to expect from this type of horror, but even though we know exactly what we’re in for, it still manages to deliver sheer entertainment. There’s nothing inventive about this type of film. In fact, it’s as conventional as they come. It works because it’s a cliché, and it’s a cliché because it works. The filmmakers of Talk to Me seem to be aware of its cheapness, but that doesn’t stop them from exploiting our need to release a good dose of adrenaline. They understand that human beings love to put themselves in fear-inducing situations. We do it for the dopamine release that follows a good scare, and this makes us not all that different from the kids strapping themselves to the chair.
Talk to Me was directed by YouTube stars Danny and Michael Philippou, and although the cautionary tale kicks off to a gripping start, it really falls flat on its head when it attempts to take itself too seriously. At times, I wished the film would just embrace its silliness, the same way last year’s Barbarian delivered on frights, laughs, and sheer delight. The moment the film deviates from its initial social commentary of the viral era, and takes itself way too seriously, it loses a lot of steam. Still, if you have two hours to kill, strap yourself to a chair and enjoy the ride.
While the horror genre is currently in the midst of a renaissance, the rom-com has been dead and buried six-feet under. Breathing life into the genre is Raine Allen Miller’s breath of fresh air, Rye Lane. This film bursts with exuberant energy. The camera work is so inventive and imaginative, it reminded me of the lively early works of Spike Lee. The film is one of the highlights of this festival and features two magnetic performances from newcomers David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah. They play the roles of Dom and Yas, two animated personalities who bond with one another after experiencing harsh break-ups with their exes.
For her high-spirited feature debut, Raine Allen-Miller playfully celebrates new found love in the aftermath of misery. Set in the vibrant neighbourhood of Peckham, we follow both characters as they stroll through the streets of South London. An initial spark of affection quickly accelerates into a full-throttle flame of love. Rye Lane shines with a colourful palette, witty dialogue, and creative cinematography, all delivered at breakneck pace. It’s quite clear that Rye Lane is the feel-good film of the festival. And although the film features a sappy sentimental happy ending, it serves the film’s positive outlook on life.
When one door closes, another opens. This happy-go-lucky film is perfect for anyone going through a tough patch in their love life. It’s full of hope, positivity, and affirmation. Allen-Miller utilises a creative walk-through technique through traumatic memories and delivers comical scenes that will bring a smile to the most rock solid of stone faces. The film also benefits greatly from an electrifying soundtrack featuring the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and British rapper Stromzy. Rye Lane also pays tribute to classic rom-coms, with obvious references to Love Actually and Before Sunrise, while delivering flair and flavour to the genre in desperate need of a revival.