They Reach Grimmfest film review

★★★★

Directed by: Sylas Dall

Written by: Sylas Dall, Bry Troyer

Starring: Mary Madaline Roe, Eden Campbell, Morgan Chandler

Film Review by: Darren Tilby



Drawing inspiration from the works of Stephen King and paying homage to the likes of The Goonies and Monster Squad, Sylas Dall’s They Reach represents a contemporary and considerably more visceral, yet instantly familiar, take on the horror-adventure films of the 1980s.


It is 1979, and after the untimely death of her brother, Jessica Daniels (Mary Madaline Roe), a young social outcast – misunderstood by all but her two best friends, Sam (Morgan Chandler) and Cheddar (Eden Campbell) – living in the small US town of Clarkson, channels her grief into her love of science. But while shopping for components at a second-hand store for her latest science project, she unwittingly comes across a possessed tape player. She releases a demonic entity upon her town, and soon, only Jessica and her friends can save it from becoming a living hell.


It is always nice when directors and writers take an old concept and breathe new life into it. By injecting modern social values into a sub-genre of film with largely outdated social values, one can conjure quite a different beast. What we see with They Reach is the mostly male-dominated lead roles and damsel-in-distress attitude towards female characters transposed.


For a first-time lead actress (Mary Madaline Roe), Jessica is a substantial, but fantastic role to take on: she is intelligent, loyal, brave and selfless. And while other performances can, occasionally, feel vapid or forced, Mary Madaline excels in the role, and, when combined with the superb supporting performances from Morgan Chandler and Eden Campbell, the trio, and their relationships with one another, provides a solid base upon which the film can flourish.


And flourish it most certainly does, for They Reach is a well-written and visually compelling retro horror film. An equal measure of humour and horror is what you will find here, at least in the beginning. However, as things really kick-off, the splattery horror elements take centre stage, and the humorous aspects of it begin to trail off. It can feel a little offish at first, as it takes a little while to re-adjust to the film’s new-found bleakness. But ultimately, it addresses a more mature audience, and I think it works well.


James Winters’ cinematography, with its muted colour palette (full of blues and oranges and reds), is extremely pleasing to the eye. Not only will it feel immediately familiar to fans of 80s horror/adventure films, but it also adds atmosphere and character to a movie that could have quickly fallen flat. And as we speak of familiarity, we come to my favourite part of the film: the pop-culture references! Writer/Director Sylas Dall claims there to be ‘542 references tucked into our movie’. Whether you believe this to be wholly true or not is up to you to decide. But the implication remains the same—there is a lot!


This is the kind of thing I love about films like They Reach. Searching for, and discovering, new pop-culture references hidden away within its layers will, for me, never get boring. After all, is it not one of the greatest joys in film; being able to re-watch a movie you’ve seen many a time before and still discover something new each time?