Summer of ‘84 starts out as a children’s mystery book come to life. It’s a lot like Goosebumps without the supernatural element. People are undoubtedly going to compare it to Stranger Things and probably to a lesser extent 2017’s IT, but that’s just due to the 1980’s setting, the John Carpenter-esque synthtrack, and the main characters being tweens. This isn’t a Stranger Things/IT knock-off, it really does do its own thing and has its own tone…and then that tone goes to some ridiculously dark places. It is a slow build, maybe even a bit too slow, but during the film’s climax, I was genuinely anxious and uncomfortable. It went places I never thought in a million years a film like this would go. Most movies don’t have the balls to do what Summer of ‘84 does, and that’s what makes it so special. At a certain point, this movie kicks into high gear and never looks back.
“…his friends begin to believe the disappearances are connected to Officer Mackey…”
The film centers on Davey (played by Graham Verchere). After a number of kids go missing, Davey and his friends begin to believe the disappearances are connected to Officer Wayne Mackey (played by Rich Sommer), a friendly cop that lives next door. The group launches their own investigation, complete with digging through garbage, communicating via cheap toy walkie-talkies, and sneaking around during neighborhood games of hide and seek. Everyone in the group has a pretty clichéd character trait. We have Woody, the resident chubby kid (played by Caleb Emery), Eats, the tough punker (played by Judah Lewis), and nerdy Curtis (played by Cory Gruter-Andrew). There is an attempt at making them deeper than their stereotypes, for instance, Eats has an abusive family and Woody has issues with his Mother…but ultimately these aren’t explored as much as they could have been. These are paper-thin characterizations we’ve seen a million times before. Sommer plays Officer Mackey splendidly. His portrayal constantly keeps you guessing. Is he really the monster the kids believe him to be? Is the evidence the kids are collecting against him just a misunderstanding, or is he really a monstrous killer? He comes across as a nice guy, but there’s something noticeably off about him. There’s also a pretty formulaic love story between Davey and Nikki (played by Tiera Skovbye), the beautiful girl next door who inexplicably has a thing for Davey. Look, aside from Sommer’s being equally menacing and warm as Officer Mackey, this is pretty standard stuff, and then the climax happens and all hell breaks loose.
“…really does do its own thing and has its own tone…”
Starting with one of the scariest sequences I’ve seen in recent memory; an attic stepladder slowly lowers from the ceiling. It’s the context and the way its shot that makes it so effective. The colors and shadows pull out this intense wave of dread. Without giving anything away, what transpires next is fucking bold. What could have been something dreadfully boring and stale instantly becomes exceptionally different and fresh. Summer ’84 is a slow burn that leads to a wildfire, an unpredictable force of nature that plays with your expectations. You begin to appreciate the rest of the film because it has lulled you into a false sense of security and banality before slamming you into a brilliantly dark chilling finale. Summer ’84 requires patience. If you find yourself feeling like you’re bored by familiarity, just wait. You won’t be disappointed.
Summer of ’84 (2018) Directed by: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Written by: Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith. Starring: Graham Verchere, Rich Sommer, Judah Lewis, Tiera Skovbye, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew.
8 out of 10