They Reach might not be the most original film you see in 2020, but wow is it fun. It is almost impossible with this upbeat, even perky supernatural teen adventure film to not acknowledge obvious points of reference such as Stranger Things, The Goonies and IT, but in the filmmakers defense they are hardly disguising this, noted as they are as direct influences on the project. Directed by Sylas Dall who co-wrote the film with Bry Troyer, what They Reach lacks in originality it makes up for in heart, and sometimes – as is very much the case here – that is all you need.
Set in the late 1970s, the film follows three friends, Jess, Sam and Cheddar, who find themselves in the midst of a demonic invasion of their small American town when Jess accidentally unleashes a malevolent spirit when she activates a rusty old reel-to-reel tape machine she rescues from a local antique shop. Played in a charming performance by Mary Madaline Roe, Jess already had her own problems; the film begins just after the passing of her beloved older brother, a popular football player, and the family are readjusting to their new interpersonal dynamics. Of these, most shaky is that between Jess and her father; while there is affection there, as he notes early in the film, they seem to lack the basic requirement of having anything even remotely in common.
But that of course all changes when a demon enters the equation. Along with her friend-crush Sam and their wackadoodle, corn dog addicted girl-buddy Cheddar, the three proud geeks find themselves battling something far more menacing than cranky physical education teachers and the cool kids at school. With the help of a local Latin-reading priest and stoner librarian, they join forces to not just save the day, but their very town – and themselves.
They Reach is far from radical, experimental cinema, but on no level does it even remotely pretend to be; it is a squishy nostalgia ride not just into early adolescence itself, but a retro-aesthetic drenched historical past where things seem altogether rosier than they are today, even in the face of a hyperactive nogoodnik demon. They Reach is fun, warm and sincere, and at the end of the day – in this appalling year especially – that feels like it is more than enough to mark it as a success.