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“THE REACH” (TIFF Review)

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THE REACH is a great work of pulp delirium masquerading as accessible mainstream entertainment. Starring, as it does, the son of Spartacus himself, legendary actor Michael Douglas (who also produced and developed the project) and baited for the ladies with youthful hard bodied hunk Jeremy Irvine (WAR HORSE), THE REACH exceeds its potentially pedestrian lure and conventional set-up and ends up being something far more daring and aesthetically evolved. An existential, bizarre western/horror hybrid, it plays like an expanded ROAD RUNNER short by way of Werner Herzog’s FITZCARRALDO and THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, peppered with macho swagger and a distinctly European sense of operatic grandeur.  And like the similarly testosterone-soaked thriller THE GREY, if marketed right THE REACH could—and should—find its cult very quickly.

The film is based on, believe it or not, the 42 year-old Young Adult novel DEATHWATCH, by William Castle’s favorite screenwriter, Robb White (13 GHOSTS, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL). By all accounts, the adaptation is fairly faithful, although the levels of violence are amplified and the narrative is set in the present day. In it, Douglas (looking fantastic, especially for a man who was essentially set to die only a few years ago, due to an aggressive strain of tongue cancer) stars as Madec, a privileged millionaire who hires a naïve young man named Ben (Irvine) to be his assistant on a safari into the Mojave Desert. The aim is to hunt and kill a rare horned ram that the narcissistic Madec wishes to behead and add to his trophy wall.

As cinematographer Russell Carpenter’s camera (Carpenter’s massive body of work dates back to such horror films as SOLE SURVIVOR and CRITTERS 2) prowls and frames the stunning valleys and vistas of New Mexico, the two radically different men awkwardly bond, at one point even urinating off a cliff together (it’s not as tacky as it reads). But when Madec takes a shot at what he thinks is the ram, he actually ends up killing a man. Once the initial shock wears off, he tries to cover his crime by paying Ben to dispose of the body. When the shaken youth resists, the desperate Madec opts to murder him.

Ben escapes and an increasingly insane cat-and-mouse meltdown spirals, with the now completely socially-stripped capitalist resorting to primal violence and berserk acts, set against nightmarish arid landscapes and gelled together by a moody ambient score by ex-Tindersticks member Dickon Hinchcliffe (WINTER’S BONE). If you’ve ever wanted to see Douglas in a state of rapturous cackling madness, hurling sticks of dynamite, this movie is for you.

Essentially THE REACH is a Peckinpah-steeped treatise about becoming a man via violence. The film is blackly comic and transparently metaphorical with Douglas owning every frame he’s in, and devouring it accordingly. That latter note isn’t a criticism, rather praise for a performer that isn’t afraid to go over the top.  It’s the dichotomy of Douglas’ mania, framed by director Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s control that makes THE REACH such a satisfying experience. If there’s any flaw with the film, it’s in its lackluster slasher movie ending, recalling an earlier Douglas climax in his megahit FATAL ATTRACTION, a re-shot finale aimed to please crowds while undermining the action which came before it.

THE REACH doesn’t stumble quite as grandly, but it’s a shame Leonetti couldn’t keep the steely grip on the story right until the credit crawl. Still, THE REACH is tons of fun and is best viewed in a theatre with a rowdy crowd, blasted onto the biggest screen possible.

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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