They Reach is a charming child-centric horror movie with R-rated aspirations that also wears its heavy 80s influences squarely on its chest; however it doesn’t quite do enough to overcome its tonal issues, narrative flaws or the stilted acting of its amateur cast.
Everything about this film, from the poster that literally steals the same font as Stranger Things, to the many, many Spielberg, Raimi and Carpenter homages seen throughout, is evocative of the 80s and sets out a clear stall that the film is a throwback in every sense of the word. It even ends with a shot of children walking along train tracks.
The film centres on Jessica (Mary Madaline Roe) who uncovers a possessed tape-recorder from a thrift store and accidentally unleashes a demon that spells bad and bloody news for the small town. Only Jessica and her two friends, potential dorky love interest Sam (Morgan Chandler) and excessively eccentric Cheddar (Eden Campbell) can save the day.
Jessica and her parents Grace (Elizabeth Rhodes) and John (Ash Calder) are also dealing with the untimely death of her brother, although bizarrely this doesn’t really feature prominently in the rest of the film. This is just one example of many that suggest the script could’ve used a bit more tightening up.
Other elements like Cheddar’s well-acted but grating deliberately over-the-top characterisation, the dramatic tension between father and daughter being caused by the fact she likes science and inventing rather than playing with dolls not making much sense (he’d be happy surely?) and a particularly unfulfilling conclusion that, although foreshadowed in the script, erased everything we’d just watched unfold in a ‘it was all just a dream’ way, are also things that don’t work particularly well with the film.
The acting throughout is another small issue as oftentimes stilted delivery and dialogue that doesn’t flow from character to character makes a lot of the weaknesses in the script more glaringly obvious. This applies to the whole cast at times although, honestly, the children are much better than the adults.
But, They Reach manages to capture a lot with a relatively low budget and their demonic villain, although not fully seen on screen, manages to create some inventive, albeit mostly off-screen yes surprisingly brutal, kills that offer plenty of blood spatter and the horror tones are really well done, particularly in the scene with Jessica walking in on her ‘mother’ chopping up meat.
Tonally it’s difficult to place They Reach, as the acting style, narrative, which includes a budding teen love story, age of the central characters and overall set-up feels more akin to a Goosebumps caper, but then a character gets openly beheaded and blood gets repeatedly sprayed over walls and faces taking it a step above that, but not far enough to make it satisfying for adult gorehounds.
There are some genuinely great moments in They Reach that certainly suggest that director Sylas Dall could do something with a bigger budget, especially as the overall shooting and directing of the movie appears to be extremely competent. Plus, the 80s aesthetic and child-focus are definitely enough to pull you through despite the film’s flaws
As a result They Reach is an enjoyable watch, but it isn’t one of the stronger Stranger Things pastiches that have emerged since the show launched 80s horror throwbacks into the mainstream.
Please check out our interview with They Reach’s starring lady Mary Madaline Roe here!
And you can find the rest of our Grimmfest 2020 coverage here!