Summer of 84 Movie Review

Written by Joel Harley

Released by Gunpowder & Sky

Directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell
Written by Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith
2018, 105 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest European premiere on 23rd August 2018

Graham Verchere as Davey Armstrong
Judah Lewis as Tommy 'Eats' Eaton
Caleb Emery as Dale 'Woody' Woodworth
Cory Gruter-Andrew as Curtis Farraday

summer of 84 poster


There's no escaping it – Stranger Things has happened. In its wake comes a plague of wisecracking kids on bikes making Spielberg references and solving mysteries in the woods as they come of age. Hot on the heels of the hit Netflix show and storming It adaptation comes Summer of 84, a title so on-the-nose and obvious that it could only ever be a deconstruction of the '80s Nostalgia Movie... right?

Half-right. In a feature-length exercise in having one's cake and eating it, this is both things at once, deconstructing The Thing at the same time as it Does The Thing Itself, almost unironically. In this case, there's no supernatural murder clowns, Spielbergian aliens or whatever the main threat of Stranger Things is (I've never been able to make it past the third episode), just a kid convinced that his otherwise chummy neighbour is a serial killer. It's Stranger Things meets Rear Window.

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The pesky kids on bikes consist of Davey and his three friends; a less interesting, slightly 'edgier' but still fairly likeable variation on Stephen King's Losers' Club. When ringleader Davey uncovers evidence that his schlubby cop neighbour might be the serial killer murdering neighbourhood kids, they drop everything in their quest to bring him to justice. Throughout, there's a sense that things aren't quite as they seem; surely directors Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell have more up their sleeve than such a basic rip-off of an already quite unoriginal television show?

Yes and no. There's more to Summer of 84 than meets the eye, but you have to look hard for it, squinting past the irritating affectations and multitudinous '80s pop culture references. It goes on and on, committing so hard to its bit that for a good chunk of the film it really does appear to be nothing more than yet another '80s Nostalgia Movie.

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And yet, Summer of 84 is very well made. Those who do love Stranger Things (everyone but me, then) should find plenty to enjoy in the Scooby Doo shenanigans of its youths. Even if you don't go in for the whole '80s nostalgia thing, the banter between the boys is enjoyably smutty and puerile, and the mystery at its heart is an engaging one, in spite of the clichéd trappings. Slowly, almost interminably, it builds towards a pay-off that's nearly worth the wait.

Multiple red herrings and a sense that the film simply has to be hiding something up its sleeve; in the end, I was more interested in what might be hiding behind its facade than the film itself. That Summer of 84 sticks the landing is a relief, but its overall point is nothing special and an idea handled far better by David Lynch, in the actual '80s, no less.

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In a subgenre that's all about the references to other things, it's only apt that this paragraph should consist of a list of things that are relatively similar to yet better than Summer of 84: Maury and Bustillo's Among the Living. The underrated Jack Ketchum adaptation The Lost. Brian Keene's Ghoul  (the book, definitely not the film). Either version of Fright Night, but neither of the sequels. And, of course, anything made by Amblin in the 1980s.

From its synth score to its storytelling, Summer of 84 is carefully constructed pastiche. Sure, it's the '80s, but it's unclear as to what exactly the directorial team are trying to pastiche. Is it a recreation of the 1980s coming of age genre movie – or something a little more modern? At this point, it's a pastiche of a pastiche; a recreation of a recration; it's muddled, confusing doubled-down unoriginality. One wishes that the film's multiple writers and directors could have channeled this obvious passion and talent into something... more. Cliché-ridden and cruising into an already saturated market, it does just enough of its own thing to not be a complete duffer.


Movie: 2.5 Star Rating Cover

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