Summer of ’84 Review (Sundance) – You’ll Leave This Film Shaken
Starring Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Rich Sommer
Written by Matt Leslie, Stephen J. Smith
Directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yo-ann-Karl Whissell
The latest movie from the directors of 2015’s festival darling Turbo Kid, Summer of ’84 is RKSS’s latest offering that aims to take that same childish wonder and give it a far more sinister edge.
The film, set in the titular summer of 1984, follows four teenage boys, Davey, Tommy, Woody, and Curtis, each of whom are basically exploding with hormones, desperate to prove their manliness with overabundant jokes about sleeping with each other’s moms, tall tales of obviously false sexual exploits, and using binoculars to voyeuristically peer through windows at an undressing neighbor girl, Nikki. One day, Davey, who is obsessed with tabloid rag stories, hears that a serial killer is on the loose in his area, much to his delight. When he begins to suspect that his neighbor Mr. Mackey, a police officer, is the serial killer, he convinces his friends to join him in spying on this man so as to solve the case on their own.
Taking cues from films like The Burbs, Goonies, and The Monster Squad while also coming during the time of “Stranger Things” and its popularity, Summer of ’84 delights in creating an atmosphere of child-like carefree innocence in which these young boys can essentially stalk a police officer, no matter how desperately they try to convince each other, and us, that any wrong step could lead to dire consequences. However, that atmosphere is hindered by a script where much of the dialogue feels forced and repetitive, resulting in scenes that had me feeling déjà vu. The actors make the best with what they have but you can feel the awkwardness as they converse.
Musically, the score by Le Matos doesn’t have the same memorability as Turbo Kid and sadly ends up becoming background noise. Furthermore, the 105-minute film could have easily been edited down by 15-20 minutes to great effect. The character of Nikki is entirely useless, her character’s actions unbelievable and her relationship with Davey wholly inappropriate, considering the age difference strongly suggested in the film.
Aesthetically, the film looks incredibly professional. The production is great and DP Jean-Philippe Bernier clearly has an eye for how to make each scene pop. Additionally, while the film is set in the 80’s, it doesn’t bash this fact over your head with tons of winks and nods. It’s the little things here and there that cement the timeframe of Summer of ’84.
The whole basis of the film plays on the fact that these kids are investigating someone that is wrongly put in the crosshairs. And yet, everything is done to make the viewer believe that they are on the right path, so much so that when the twist comes that Mr. Mackey IS revealed to be the killer, it has absolutely no weight. It’s a blasé moment that has no impact whatsoever.
Much like the third Lord of the Rings film, Summer of ’84 suffers from having too many endings. The film likes to fade to black, wait a couple of seconds, and then jump back in with more story. While the ultimate ending is pretty damn great, it comes too late in an overly long film to be as effective as it should.
In the climax, Mackey manages to escape but not before capturing and injuring Davey, threatening that he will return one unknown day to finish what he started, his final revenge instilling Davey with the knowledge of his own impending, yet uncertain, mortality. The final moments see a broken Davey, one that realizes his life ahead will be fraught with terror and fear, his childhood safety stripped away by a single monologue. It’s a marvelous twist that upends and destroys that same carefree atmosphere the film spent so long lingering within.
By and large a more mature effort than Turbo Kid, RKSS’s Summer of ’84 is a flawed film that has its positive qualities. If you can battle through the unnecessarily long runtime, you’ll come to an ending that is darkly satisfying.