If scenes from the recently released horror-comedy film “They Reach” — an inventive cross of “The Goonies,” “The Evil Dead” and “The Exorcist” — happen to look familiar, that’s because it was filmed in the Puget Sound area.
The movie, now on Blu-ray and DVD and available to stream, is set in 1979 and follows inquisitive tween spitfire Jessica Daniels (Mary Madaline Roe) after she is marked with a bloody demonic symbol. She and her best friends Sam (Morgan Chandler) and Cheddar (Eden Campbell) have one night to figure out what’s going on before all of them, and likely their entire town, meet a grisly end.
It was important to writer/director Sylas Dall, who grew up in Tacoma and Enumclaw, and producers Bry Troyer (who’s located in Olympia) and Jason Connelly (in Seattle), that the film represent the Pacific Northwest.
“It felt natural to keep ‘They Reach’ here,” Dall says. “We had enough talent to keep it in Washington, to show viewers what it feels like in the fall and winter. Even though we had a challenging time in the cold weather, it was worth it because it gives you that feeling of the Pacific Northwest. That’s something our team was proud to represent.”
The group’s knowledge of the region came in handy. When a soccer field they had reserved became unavailable, Troyer found a high school gym in Olympia. “This was an older gym that had that feel of when I was in high school,” the director said. “It had wooden floors and bleachers. That was key in trying to find something that represented 1979.”
This film also offered Dall the opportunity to head home for much of the shoot. “We shot a lot in Enumclaw,” he says. “We went to City Hall, and they were happy about helping out because I was a former student from the local high school. We were really lucky. Locations wanted to be a part of this homegrown project.”
For 15-year-old Roe, a Kirkland native, the character of Jessica was a natural fit, and Dall involved her in shaping the character. “When I first met Sylas, I was maybe 11,” she says. I knew instantly that this was something I wanted to be a part of. The character, she is so strong, so smart and unique. I feel like other teenagers can look up to her. I was so similar to Jessica. We both have a small social circle, but our friends accept us for who we are. We both really love science. I was actually participating in the robotics club at the time of filming, and I’m currently the CFO of my robotics team at my high school.”
With his three primary stars not yet teenagers, Dall erred on the side of caution as to how much gore and violence he allowed them to be associated with. “The cast members, and even some of the extras, were warned about the gore,” the director says. “Some of the kid extras had to drop out. There are a few moments that are pretty horrific. We approached it scene by scene based on their comfort level and also on their parents’ comfort level.”
Dall says that making his feature-length debut in the Pacific Northwest emphasized to him how close everyone in the filmmaking community is here, citing help he received from filmmaker Megan Griffiths after he reached out for advice. He’s working on passing that on, too, trying to teach local students about filmmaking.
“That’s what I really love about our community, is the camaraderie and everybody just being there for each other.”
Correction: This article has been updated with the correct name of Mary Madaline Roe and the club she was involved in at the time of filming.