Mary Madaline Roe has been living in the 1970s these past several months.
For a 12-year-old such as Roe, it might as well be prehistoric times.
“It is hard to adjust,” she said.
Bikes with wide handles and banana seats, records instead of MP3s, phones with cords. And the clothes. Oh, the clothes.
“It’s just really different,” Roe said. “I can’t imagine living in the '70s.”
Roe is the lead actress in an independent feature film, “They Reach,” which has been filming in the South Sound since November.
The suspense-thriller — which will come out in the spring — is set in 1979.
“I’m a sucker for the '70s,” said screenwriter/director Sylas Dall. “I’m stuck in the '70s.”
Like Roe, Dall is too young to have first-hand experience of the decade. The Tacoma native is 31.
“I grew up on old films,” Dall said. “My mom started me off on ‘The Fog’ and the original ‘Poltergeist,’ ‘The Goonies.’
The 1970s offer opportunities present-day films can’t.
“You don’t have a cell phone to call people,” Dall said of the period. “You have to find a land line. And the land line’s probably not going to work in a horror movie.”
He even revels in the color palette of the decade.
Dall said “They Reach” is not a slasher film. It’s more of a mystery-horror with adventure, a return to Dall’s own childhood when he spent countless hours developing ways to combat monsters and solve mysteries.
The plot follows Roe's character and her friends as a school science project wittingly unleashes a monster on their small town. They must build a machine to combat it.
Dall started the film over two years ago with an almost all-volunteer cast and crew. Principal photography is completed with exception of a few special effects.
The movie will be submitted to film festivals early next year. Its general release will come after that.
The budget is in the low five figures.
“Everything is so accessible now,” he said. “You can shoot a film on your iPhone.”
The creature is all practical special effects — no computer generated imagery here.
The 50-person crew is all local. They’ve filmed in Tacoma, Olympia, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Yelm, Bonney Lake, Spanaway and other locales.
As filming stretched into spring, the crew was careful to keep a fall look.
“We have bags of dried leaves for set design and keeping the appearance of fall,” Dall said.
In the movie, Kirkland resident Roe plays Jessica, a courageous science nerd.
Roe said she relates to the character because both like science and have close friends.
“I just try to feel what Jessica feels,” Roe said recently in the backyard of a Federal Way home. Another actor in a bloodied police uniform stood nearby.
She rehearses lines with her mother.
“We do them until I think they’re right,” Roe said.
She’s bittersweet about the movie wrapping up.
“I love this like breathing,” Roe said. “I can’t imagine life without acting, but at the same kind I’m kind of glad it’s going to be over soon because it’s taken over a year.”
She’s seen takes of herself and she likes what she sees.
“When I look at myself I see another persona, aside from the person I see at school and home,” she said.
It might seem like child endangerment to pit a 12-year-old girl against a monster. But then, this is a movie.
“I have to try and not smile on camera,” Roe said.
Morgan Chandler plays one of Jessica’s pals, Sam.
The 16-year-old Kingston resident brings theater experience to the movie. Acting on the boards is a more meticulous experience than film, he’s discovered.
“You show up on a set and it’s go, go, go,” Chandler said.
Because he’s playing to a camera rather than the back of the house he can use a wider range of acting.
Like Roe, there are elements of Chandler in Sam.
“I’m definitely not as nerdy as Sam is portrayed in the script,” he said. “Though, there is that side of me.”
The film’s production values are so high, his co-actors so convincing, Chandler said that the movie feels real at times.
“I’ve found myself panting in exasperation and fear,” he said.
And like Rose, he’s just not into the clothes.
“All of my pants are in women's sizes," he said, "because they don’t sell bell bottom corduroy in men’s sizes anymore.”