Summer of ’84 (2018)

Director: Anouk Whissell, François Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissell

Starring: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Jason Gray-Stanford, Caleb Emery, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer

Premiering at Sundance, the trio behind quirky sci-fi comedy Turbo Kid (previously reviewed here)which won hearts at the festival back in 2015 are back with more retro 80’s nostalgia in the form of horror thriller Summer of ’84. Taking a more subdued and at times darker tone than their last film, they’re brought audiences something that will certainly tide them over until the next season of Stranger Things comes out.

It’s – as you would expect – the summer of 1984, and a group of teenage boys are making the most of it with games in the street, insulting one another at every chance, and lusting after girls they can’t have. That is until conspiracy-junkie Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere, Fargo) suspects that the notorious “Cape May Slayer” who has been terrorising the area may in fact be his neighbour, police officer Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer, Mad Men). Enlisting his friends to help gather information, Davey is determined to find out the truth about his upstanding neighbour who seems to be taking the accusation in his stride.

The idea of your neighbour being a murderer isn’t a new one and after as the film’s tagline states, all murderers must be the neighbours of someone mustn’t they? This premise was expertly explored in the classic Rear Window. Here it isn’t explored as deeply, but there are other stories to be told that are just as engaging and other clear inspirations that make this a nostalgic treat to watch. Though Summer of ’84 is a film of murder mystery and suspense it also feels like a deeply heartfelt love letter to the classic coming of age films of the 80’s, where the journey isn’t always as important as what is learnt on the way. It’s their friendships and understanding of how adults don’t always know best that is more deeply explored and more engaging, reminding the audience of that time of big changes which endear you to these charmingly scrappy characters. There are also some especially poignant moments with Woody (Caleb Emery, Goosebumps) and his mother that show the audience that even before taking up this investigation into a serial killer there were hurdles in their lives, which I’ll say no more about but be prepared to feel things.

Whilst watching Summer of ’84 there are many previous works it feels familiar to yet not the same as, Stand By Me and The Goonies for its sense of friendship and adventure, Stranger Things for its subdued and more realistic take on the 1980’s (it doesn’t throw in your face that it’s the 80’s, it’s just is without being glaringly so), and the underrated NBC show Eerie, Indiana (previously reviewed here) for its conspiracies and strange goings on beneath the surface that adults seem unaware of. There’s even a little bit of Porky’s in there with the way they lust at grown women. There’s a dash of all of these and more in the film, making it feel like a nostalgic security blanket as you watch just like when you watch any of the classic coming-of-age films it nods to. Though there are grisly goings on in the film’s story it has an oddly comforting feeling, perhaps a similar sense of comfort that the adult characters within the film have which lead them to ignore what could be potentially happening right under their noses if Davey is right.

The story twists and turns as it goes on, teasing the audience into questioning if the kids are right or if this is just a fantasy of an overactive imagination taken too far. The audience is about as sure as the kids are which means everyone is muddling through looking for answers. It’s almost as though you are joining them in their investigation, and I personally found myself looking for clues too like a co-conspirator with them. Feeling like a part of the group helped to build up a decent amount of tension leading up to the dark and rather satisfying finale of the film where it shifts into a game of cat and mouse that kept my attention firmly focused on the screen.

The cast work so well together in the film, playing off one another like believable lifelong friends and making the audience care for them. Their bantering feels comfortable and easy, the way it is with someone you completely trust, which both always impressive and welcome as it makes the group feel natural. None of the characters they are playing are anywhere near perfect (but then what teenager is?) but they’ve all managed to make them feel like lovable rogues that the audience can take to and root for. It’s difficult to pick out one single performance because they felt so inter-meshed, they’ve melted almost seamlessly into an ensemble performance as a group that to separate them for the purposes of review seems wrong somehow. I truly look forward to seeing more from each of them in the future.

Summer of ’84 is an atmospheric and nostalgic film that doesn’t hide its love for the greats which it nods to earnestly and with love. So different to Turbo Kid, but just as enjoyable – the two films do share one commonality in that again it feels like kids against adults, with the heroism firmly on the side of the kids. Gentler in places but still dark and painful in others, Summer of ’84 is a thoroughly enjoyable trip through the 80’s full of charm and sometimes outrageous one-liners that will hold you until RKSS come back with their next film (the announced sequel to Turbo Kid I’m hoping – please RKSS?).

Overall Rating: 4/5

A fun and mysterious coming-of-age film for fans of retro and horror

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