In today’s episode, Australian horror takes center stage courtesy of Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou’s Talk to Me (2023). In the film, Mia, who is grappling with the imminent second anniversary of her mother’s death, attends a party with Jade, her best friend, and Riley, Jade’s brother. There, they are given the opportunity to commune with the spirit world via an embalmed hand. Predictably, things do not go according to plan. With unrelenting hype and a domestic box office gross outpacing other A24 releases, the film is a potent hybrid of gore and dread but is it the best horror film of the year so far? We’re breaking it all down today with spoilers so stay tuned!
No personal protective equipment, no training for the current situation, and no Clorox wipes as far as the eye can see, though you’ve never needed one more. The threat of death lurks around every corner, and your job, nominally developing your students’ minds, now requires jeopardizing your body. It may sound like Betsy DeVos’s plan for the 2020 school year in the US. In fact, it definitely is. But it is also the plot of Abe Forsythe’s 2019 Australian film Little Monsters, a zom-com in which kindergarten teacher Miss (Audrey) Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) must safely extricate her class from a petting zoo plagued by zombie hordes stumbling over from a nearby American military base.
As US educators watching the film in 2020 (why, God, why????), we find it difficult to overlook how often our supposed “life of the mind” demands making an ultimate sacrifice of our bodies. In that regard, COVID-19 simply replays the tired old arguments around gun violence in American schools. Whether we’re told to arm ourselves with guns or antibacterial gel, our teaching is interrupted constantly by threats we’re not trained or paid to handle. What Little Monsters suggests is that this is modern-day education.
When people ask me what’s the scariest film I remember from my misspent youth, they’re always surprised when I reference Fortress (1985), a little seen Australian thriller that inexplicably became an HBO mainstay in the late 1980s. Based on a novel of the same name by Gabrielle Lord, the movie centers on a classroom of children and their young teacher, Sally Jones (Rachel Ward), who are taken hostage by a band of homicidal, mask wearing men. With moments of pronounced violence, the film is worth another look by horror fans for the way it leverages its classroom setting to instill fear.
Because horror grapples with the collective anxieties of the time, how a space is viewed by an audience is contingent largely upon the events of the day. For instance, to an audience in the 1930s watching The Lady Vanishes (1938) for the first time, the claustrophobic setting of a train car reads very differently than it does to a millennial audience who may lack a real world understanding for how it feels to travel by train. As a space, the classroom historically represents not only a place of learning, but also a place of security. While this perception has altered radically in the wake of Columbine and Sandy Hook, in the 1980s the classroom did not instantly connote a sense of fear. Read more