Monday, November 02, 2020

They Reach: Nice Nostalgia Horror

1979 was a great year for genre movies. That was the year Alien, Phantasm, and The Black Hole (amongst others) were released. A geeky science-obsessed teen like Jessica Daniels would have been interested in all three. Unfortunately, 1979 is a tragic year for the Daniels family, but an evil force unleashed a decade earlier is about to make it even harder for them in Sylas Dall’s They Reach, which releases tomorrow on VOD.

In the prologue, a paranormal investigator and his son examine an apparently possessed boy, but the case is way out of their league. Flashforward to 1979. After the funeral for her big brother, the star quarterback at her high school, Daniels absent-mindedly starts browsing at a local junk shop, walking away with a box loaded with remnants from the not wholly-successful exorcism. Most notable is the reel-to-reel player that will act as a doorway for the malevolent entity as soon as it comes into contact with blood, which indeed happens when Daniels starts fiddling with it.

At first, she just has some very bad visions, but then terrible things start befalling the Daniels family. Of course, the dumb cops just want to throw her dad in jail, so Daniels will have to rely on her geeky pals, Sam and Cheddar when she faces the sinister demon. A few adults, like a hippy-dippy librarian will offer help, but when push comes to shove, it will really just be up to the kids.

If you are thinking
Stranger Things and Summer of ’84, you have the right idea, but They Reach still feels fresh because our intrepid trio of youthful demon-busters are so strongly drawn. Dall and co-screenwriter Bry Troyer give them dialogue that is smart, snappy, and fannish, but still sounds appropriate to their age and era.

The kids themselves are also a major asset to the film. Mary Madaline Roe, Morgan Chandler, and Eden Campbell (as Daniels, Sam, and Cheddar, respectively) have great energy bantering off each other and they really look like underclassmen (instead of 40-year-old Alex Keatons). Roe also has serious familial dramatic duties that she handles quite impressively. We really feel for the kid, which doesn’t always happen in horror movies.

Dall and co-production designer Joel Derefield give
They Reach an appealing retro-period look. It definitely evokes back memories of films from the era, particularly Daniels’ NASA t-shirts and space-themed d├ęcor (which brings to mind the younger’s brother’s room in Phantasm). It is a lot of fun, but it is also surprisingly sweet and even poignant. In fact, these characters are strong enough to support a franchise. Highly recommended for nostalgia horror fans, They Reach releases on VOD tomorrow (11/3), which will be just an ordinary day, exactly like any other.