THEY REACH *** USA 2020 Dir: Sylas Dall. 87 mins
A nostalgia-infused feature debut for writer-director Sylas Dall, whose childhood obsession with VHS horror is apparent from the get-go.
In a 1969 prologue, a father and son team come to the aid of a seemingly possessed boy for a “scientific study”, recording the unfolding horror on tape. It doesn’t end well. Ten years later, in the small town of Clarkston, 13-year-old gadget / robot obsessed tomboy Jessica (Mary Madaline Roe) picks up the old tape recorder within a box of junk from an antique shop. Her intention to use it as part of her ongoing science projects is marred a tad when she unwittingly unleashes a soul-stealing Sanguine demon after spilling blood on the machine.
With a Spielbergian focus on the kids – Jessica’s parents (Elizabeth Rhoades, Ash Calder) are incidental at most – this is a good-natured love letter to the 80s child-friendly monster movies with which Dall grew up, in particular THE GATE. The young cast are unusually likeable – and look and act like real kids. Roe is a sweet, appealing heroine while Morgan Chandler and, especially, the genuinely funny, off the wall Eden Campbell (as Cheddar) are very good as her closest pals. Dall has fun with the period detail: Jessica has an EC-style comic book named “They Reach”, listens to Heart’s “Barracuda” on vinyl and has bedroom wall posters for ALIEN, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD plays on TV, characters smoke and research demonology in an old fashioned library, kids sing to the Ramones and play CB radios…it’s an unapologetically rose-tinted flashback in horror movie form.
The flick makes the most of its limited resources, with excellent practical special effects, and takes its central threat seriously despite the overall light tone. Not all of it works: the pacing is a little off and it overdoes the “quirk” with unnecessarily goofy, overplayed cops and an intrusive librarian. It is, however, so eager to please – and the wrap-up so genuinely sweet – that it seems rude to complain.
Review by Steven West