By Elias Savada.

They Reach offers slow build up and small jump scares. Too much music, not enough imagination, although the direction is adequate.”

They Reach starts like a low-budget road trip reboot of the sadly departed Supernatural tv series (well, two guys in a station wagon, with a gun and a spooky book in the back seat), with “1969” slammed on the screen as they arrive at their ramshackle destination. The men are Dr. Quinnley and his adult son. Of course, this is Supernatural‘s “THEN” intro moment and it’s gone in a flash as something “reaches” for a young boy apparently possessed.…

Cut to “10 years later” and a 13-year-old girl walks in a darkly lit relic shop and inadvertently carries the underwritten story (by Bry Troter and Sylas Dall) forward, curtesy of a box of junk with one oddly possessed tape recorder. It’s their first feature screenplay, which could have used a little more polish and fewer references to other scifi and horror icons. Dall also debuts as a feature director here after making a bunch of genre shorts. Although a child of the mid-1980s, he’s fascinated by horror stuff, as evidenced by posters of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Sigourney Weaver as Alien‘s Ripley, and 1962’s The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Dall’s attention to low intensity lighting threatens to toss the film into a total eclipse, as too many settings are bound in darkness that make little sense. I’ll allow for outdoor scenes that allow for this, but the dimness is just too noticeable here. Sure, it’s for effect, but effect within reason! I’m guessing that light bulbs were the first item to go when Dall decided to cut costs in favor of too many music tracks from composer Carlos Garcia (also working on his first long form film).

The Goonie-esque kids are actually good actors….

As the film morphs into Stranger Things wannabe mode, the central character, Jessica Daniels (Mary Madaline Roe, who, like her character, is an electronics geek), has sorrow pangs from the recent death of her 17-year-old brother. And now she’s the center of attention for a mostly unseen demon creature (or whatever it’s supposed to be). With her parents, John (Ash Calder) and Grace (Elizabeth Rhoades), also in various stages of mourning, the lonely child tasks herself with setting the pieces of the monstrous puzzle into place. Nobly assisted by her bff’s Sam (Morgan Chandler) and Cheddar (Eden Campbell), the trio traipse around the small town (think Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show) in late 1979, as light havoc sprays blood around the landscape.

The Goonie-esque kids are actually good actors, with the diminutive Campbell offering the best profile as a spunky, aviator-capped and glasses nerd who consumes corn dogs (adorned with her eponymous cheese of preference) as if they were the only food group on earth.

The town’s populace barely registers in the film’s small ensemble, and it’s mostly up to the Keystone Kops police force that includes two deputies named Kevin Smith (Tony Gee) and Jason Mewer (Jason Heishman), to try and save face. Someone obviously is a fan of Jay and Silent Bob. You also might get a chuckle if you spot the “They Reach” comic book on Jessica’s nightstand. There’s not enough to laugh at no matter how you cut it.

There’s also the town librarian, Marybeth Moonstar (Steffanie Foster Gustafson) who helps the kids connect some of the prologue’s devil and demon dots in her (yet another) dimly lit building.

Mostly They Reach offers slow build up and small jump scares. Too much music, not enough imagination, although the direction is adequate. No doubt a better script would have helped. I wouldn’t call it They Retch, but I wonder if a comic approach would have made this a more enjoyable viewing.

Favorite line: “Grab the potatoes and run!”

Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).

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