★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
If Goosebumps with gore sounds like a winning combination to you (and it is!), check out this tale of three tweener friends who try to close the doorway for demons that one of them unknowingly opened.
Directed by Sylas Dall
They Reach is an odd but entertaining combination of tweener horror and jarringly gruesome practical effects. It certainly hits the nostalgia horror buttons, and if it was meant to be a step over from gateway horror to the gorier stuff, it succeeds well.
After a prologue set in 1969 that sees an exorcism gone horribly wrong, the main story picks up 10 years later. Thirteen-year-old self-professed nerd and science buff Jessica Daniels (Mary Madaline Roe) has just finished her popular older brother’s funeral and tries to de-stress by shopping at an antique store. Returning home with a box originally bound for the trash heap, she later accidentally cuts herself and bleeds on an old tape recorder that came in the box — and that was part of the exorcism a decade earlier. Jessica has unwittingly opened a deadly doorway that allows demons into her home, and she and best friends Sam (Morgan Chandler) and Cheddar (Eden Campbell) must find a way to close it.
Director Sylas Dall, who cowrote the screenplay with Bry Troyer, evokes an authentic period setting complete with muscle cars and name-checking of then-popular bands and songs. As I mentioned earlier, the juxtaposition of more innocent feeling fear-fare for youngsters with splatterific gore feels out of place at times, but Dall handles both styles quite well. The special effects and makeup departments turn in fine work, and the creature designs are also well rendered. James Winters’ cinematography is another strong element of the film.
Although the soundtrack songs are quite good, they are mostly from current bands that have a seventies vibe, rather than actual songs from the late seventies. This is most likely because of budget limitations, with dialogue and visual references to Ramones, Heart, and other musical acts filling in for authenticity.
The three young stars handle their roles well, with Roe standing out in a moody but charming performance and getting to stretch the most. Chandler is also solid as love-smitten Sam. Campbell gives a broad-comedy turn, and any issues with it are in great part because most of the comic relief falls on her, and it is often limited to running gags about corn dogs and miming that her bicycle is a car. She does an admirable job with what she is tasked with. The three actors have impressive chemistry together. The adult supporting performances range from good to kooky to pushing going over the top, but overall they fit the feel of what Dall was aiming for.
They Reach follows the beats of kids-on-bikes and kid-detectives spooky movies but adds plenty of eccentricity for a fresh feel. The target audience may well be adults who grew up on Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and then graduated to heavier stuff. Whether or not that is the case, it is a fun ride and recommended for fear-fare fans of all stripes.
They Reach screened as part of Popcorn Frights Wicked Weekend virtual event, which ran from October 29–November 1. It is also available On Demand and on DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment beginning November 3.