‘Talk Back and You’re Dead’ Review: Story, what story?

Zig Marasigan

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‘Talk Back and You’re Dead’ Review: Story, what story?
'Fans of the original novelette may be able to make sense of what’s going on, but for the rest of us, 'Talk Back and You’re Dead' is a mish-mash of scenes that are neither sensible nor logical,' writes movie reviewer Zig Marasigan

Story is king, and the king is dead. In this case, it’s been killed by the romantic comedy, Talk Back and You’re Dead.

Based on the Wattpad-published novel of the same name, Talk Back and You’re Dead captures the same youthful naivete in today’s online novelettes. But while more recent book-to-film adaptations like Diary ng Panget and She’s Dating a Gangster have at least some form of story (with its own share of highs and lows), what’s truly astonishing about Talk Back and You’re Dead is that it hobbles along without one.

To provide a summary for Talk Back and You’re Dead is an exercise in futility. Conventional stories are followed through a natural progression of scenes. One event causes another, and the characters are forced to act or react to the things happening around them. But Talk Back and You’re Dead is the farthest thing from conventional.

In the case of typical schoolgirl Miracle Samantha Perez (Nadine Lustre) and resident bad boy Top Pendleton (James Reid), Talk Back and You’re Dead starts off as a cookie cutter case of good girl falls for bad boy. But as the story unfolds, the illusion is dispelled, and the supposed story evaporates faster than water in the hot summer sun.


Talk Back and You’re Dead is a melting pot of garden variety soap opera hooks. A family rivalry, an arranged marriage, a supposed case of amnesia, and a sudden twist of accidental blindness are all part of the Frankenstein-ian attempt at narrative. But while it’s one thing to rely on teleserye style twists, it’s a whole other concern to have none of it make sense.

Fans of the original novelette may be able to make sense of what’s going on, but for the rest of us, Talk Back and You’re Dead is a mish-mash of scenes that are neither sensible nor logical. For a film based on a book, it’s a real wonder that anyone had written this film at all.

Making sense of it all

Talk Back and You’re Dead begins like most romantic comedies: a deal gone wrong. Samantha Perez is conned into being the girlfriend of Top Pendleton, the local heartthrob and leather-wearing bad boy. But the underlying reason for their deal is about as murky as sewer water in a typhoon, and what starts out as a routine visit to the convenience store of clichés mutates into a whirlwind of “what is going on?”   

LOVE? Are you rooting for these characters? Screengrab from YouTube

Suddenly, there’s a gang war, a family confrontation, a girl-vs-girl rivalry and a French cousin that’s has nothing to do with the others. But in the middle of all this, Samantha and Top fall madly in love with each other in what could possibly be an experiment in absurdist romance. It’s the parallel universe of storytelling, where everything doesn’t make sense but yet doesn’t try to.

 “…if a film doesn’t need a story to entertain, why do we even need a script?”

This might all make sense for fans of the book, but for the casual movie goer, it’s about as coherent as a foreign language.

Top’s gang mate, Jared (Joseph Marco) and Samantha’s former best friend Audrey (Yassi Pressman) are thrown into the mix for good measure, if only to add more characters to this odd youth ensemble. But without any rudder to steer the cast, the characters are helpless to the powers of the film.

Entertainment without story

But the oddest thing about Talk Back and You’re Dead is that there is an entertaining absurdity to it. Midway through the film, Top and Samantha are quarrelling out on the street. But instead of airing out their issues like any typical romantic comedy, Top calls Samantha his “retarded wifey” (a term that would be offensive to many) and Samantha calls Top her “hot hubby.” Before you know it, they’re making out underneath a streetlamp.

TEEN ROMANCE. TOP shields Sam while cooking. Screengrab from YouTube

Despite all the film’s egregious pitfalls, it sometimes pulls through with a scene that is admittedly entertaining. But if a film doesn’t need a story to entertain, why do we even need a script?

JADINE LOVE TEAM. James Reid and Nadine Lustre in a scene from 'Talk Back and You're Dead.' Screenshot from YouTube

Trying to make sense of Talk Back and You’re Dead’s is very much like watching a snake eat its own tail. It’s fascinatingly grotsque, watching a serpent devour itself from the outside. It slowly works towards its delicate innards, oblivious to its own demise. The snake eventually dies from its own gastric juices, and all you’re left with is a reptilian corpse that is just too eager but too consumed to tell its tail from its meal.

Talk Back and You’re Dead doesn’t have a horrible story, it simply doesn’t have a story. But if a film like Talk Back and You’re Dead can be produced and released without a need for story, who needs writers?

Writers need not apply

Not all films need a story, at least a traditional one, and maybe Talk Back and You’re Dead is rallying (intentional or not) against that. It’s no secret that traditional storytelling has a structure to it.

One event happens first, and leads to the next, and to the next. But when your non-existent story is as confusing as Talk Back and You’re Dead, and still has the ability to hit the big screen, maybe you don’t need a script. Maybe all you need are scenes and a bunch of actors with no real thread to tie them all together.

Because this is what Talk Back and You’re Dead is. It’s a film so devoid of story, it transcends it.

So this is where we fire all the writers. This is where we throw away the script. This is where we burn our stories and crown a new king, and Talk Back and You’re Dead is leading the revolution. While other films, both bad and good, struggle to craft a coherent story, this one throws it out the window. – Rappler.com

Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.


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