Tuesday, April 4, 2023

They Reach (USA, 2020)

It is pretty easy to see that were it not for the mega-success of that dull, predictable TV series Stranger Things, this interesting but massively flawed horror movie, an independent production, probably would have never seen the light of day. Director and co-scribe Sylas Dall is obviously a fan of that yawn-inducing show, and likewise probably thought that retro-set horror with kiddy characters ala Stranger Things would surely be a safe bet for success. He was wrong: They Reach pretty much promptly tanked and has since quickly sunken into obscurity, with most of the few who have bothered to watch the flick pretty much ripping it to shreds.
Trailer to
They Reach:
So, is the film as bad as the few who have seen it tend to say it is? Well, yeah, more or less — but not completely. Go in with low expectations, you might be able to overlook the narrative mess that They Reach is and enjoy its good aspects, which are numerous. Unluckily, the script (and thus the film) paints itself bloodily into the corner by the end and then drops the ball with a resounding thud by resorting to a deus ex machina resolution that will have you tearing your hair out by the roots. It remains, however, a movie that truly should have been better than it is, so if you are in a forgiving mood and willing to accept a cop-out ending, you might find it a bloody fun ride until it turns into a car wreck.
They Reach opens way back in the late 60s with an exorcist-gone-wrong scene before jumping to 1979 and introducing us to Jessica Daniels (Mary Madaline Roe), a young girl whose family is obviously having trouble coping with the death of her older high-school football-player brother. (A plot point, much like that of her father's inability to relate to his nerd daughter's non-feminine interests, that really does not have any relevance to the subsequent tale told.) She stumbles upon the tape player from the exorcism, and before you can say "Don't bleed on it" she accidentally unleashes the evils of hell, first upon her family and then upon her hometown of Clarkson. She and her two best friends, the slightly chubby proto first crush Sam (Morgan Chandlar) and the unnaturally idiosyncratic Cheddar (Eden Campbell) — the latter truly a pre-teen character of the type only an adult would create and with no basis upon reality — are confronted by a steadily increasing array of scary events as people die and blood gushes and body parts get ripped off and the town of Clarkson literally descends into hell. Can they save the day? Of course not.
For a retro-set movie, They Reach is sorely lacking of any temporally correct music, the use of which could only have helped the film. The cast of unknowns, be it the kids or the variety of adults that appear only to die, handle themselves well on the whole, so the acting cannot really be faulted. Humor also raises its head, usually intentionally, and one or two scenes are truly creepy — like when Jessica follows herself into the school basement, or she comes home to find her "mother" chopping something into bloody bits. The continually increasing sense of dread is definitely an admirable achievement, as is the speedy and unflinching steadiness with which the movie barrels forwards once hell breaks loose. Likewise, to say that the movie resorts to buckets of blood is an understatement: once the tape deck releases its evil and the movie's main narrative really starts, pretty much anyone who walks onto the screen does not stick around for long before dismemberment and death.
And that is what makes the movie enjoyable for much of its running time. Aside from its pretty respectable sense of period (albeit lacking in any decade-appropriate Golden Oldies, well-known or obscure) and a decent cast, They Reach does not skimp on all that which a good gore horror film needs: blood and guts and humor and dread. But even as the movie barrels bloodily and funnily along, it becomes increasingly illogical and heads unflinchingly straight into a dead end — and its ultimate failure as a movie. And fail it does in the end, but not by being illogical or WTF crazy. The consequentiality of the demon-instigated demises and all the blood and gore and continually shrinking cast is simply undermined, if not obliterated, by the movie's wimp-out ending.
Illogical dead ends are not necessarily something bad and do not always spell doom for a movie; thus, it is truly a shame that Sylas Dall and his co-scripter Bry Troyer didn't have the gonads to go the full monty and reap what they sow for most of the movie.
By way of comparison, let's take a look at a different movie from days past dealing with the gates of hell opening and hell coming to Earth, one that was castigated in its day but is now considered a surreal horror classic: Fulci's The Beyond (1981 / trailer below). Fulci's classic is an illogical, gore-drenched nightmare that bounces all over the place with a dreamlike lack of logic before going off the deep end with a resolution that is the epitome of WTF. In his mind-fuck of a horror film, Fulci fully embraced the ever-increasing nuttiness of the gore-drenched narrative and its obvious and unavoidable (not to mention mega-depressing) ending. In doing so, he created an artistically solid, effective and affective gore classic, and one of his best films.
Trailer to Fulci's
The Beyond:
They Reach may not be quite the gore film that The Beyond is, but it is a bloodbath of horror that becomes increasingly over-the-top and crazy as it approaches what appears to be a situation as unavoidable and final as that of Fulci's movie. Only, unlike Fulci, Dall and Troyer were obviously unwilling or unable to take the narrative of They Reach to its logical (and mega-depressing) ending, an ending that really would have (and should have) been similar to that of The Beyond. Instead, they cop out completely and, rather than becoming a surreal WTF horror movie of note, They Reach becomes a WTF failure, both in artistic terms and as a horror movie. An interesting failure, perhaps, but nevertheless an abject failure.
One hopes that the Dall and Troyer are the types that learn from their mistakes because even as a failure, They Reach shows them as filmmakers of possible promise.

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