Summer of '84 Movie Review
Written by R.J. MacReady
Released by Gunpowder & Sky
Directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell (RKSS)
Written by Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith
2018, 106 Minutes, Not Rated
Released on August 10th, 2018
Graham Verchere as Davey Armstrong
Judah Lewis as Tommy 'Eats' Eaton
Caleb Emery as Dale 'Woody' Woodworth
Cory Gruter-Andrew as Curtis Farraday
Tiera Skovbye as Nikki Kaszuba
Rich Sommer as Wayne Mackey
From the directors of the super-fun retro gorefest Turbo Kid comes Summer of '84, an '80s throwback mystery that vibes like a version of The Goonies if you threw it into a blender with The Burbs.
Davey (played by Graham Verchere) is a normal sex-starved boy with a paper route and three good friends. What sets him apart from his buddies is his obsession with conspiracies. Aliens, serial killers, you name it, he's got newpaper article about it pinned to his wall. His friends humor him, but don't buy into any of it. They're played by mostly unknowns other than Judah Lewis, who looked familiar to me. Turns out he's the kid in the Netflix hit The Babysitter, but in this film he plays Tommy "Eats" Eaton—the bad boy of the group, which is completely the opposite of his character in The Babysitter—and he does a great job. The kid has a future.
All of the friends are portrayed believably, from Dale (the fat one) to Faraday (the nerd) to Tommy and Davey. They live near the town of Cape May, where kids have begun to mysteriously disappear. Davey gets it into his head that his neighbor Wayne Mackey is behind the kidnappings and is a serial killer. Mostly on account of the fact that he buys a lot of dirt, and Davey saw a child in his house that resembled one of the missing kids. His friends think it's flimsy, but Davey's like a dog with a bone. He's not going to drop it.
Davey formulates a plan to get evidence on Mackey, but it's complicated by the fact that nobody believes him. Mackey is a cop, so his parents find the notion ludicrous. Davey convinces his friends to go along with him, and they set out to find evidence linking Mackey to the crime. There's the skeleton of a love story with another neighbor girl played by Tiera Skovbye (Polly—Betty's sister on the CW's Riverdale) that Davey used to be friends with, but not much payoff there.
Keeping with my non-spoiler reviews, I won't go much into what happens after that. The kids get into trouble, the killer makes an appearance, and shit gets real.
I'm torn on this review. First off, I'm a sucker for '80s stuff. I love The Goldbergs and Stranger Things—for which this owes much of its look courtesy of cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier (Turbo Kid) and production designer Justin Ludwig (Wolfcop). When I saw the trailer for this, I was very interested to see it, even if it seemed like the plot was torn out of Ronald Malfi's novel December Park.
And I'm not saying that the movie's bad, because it's not. It's a slow burn that begins cooking hot about an hour into it, but by the end it just doesn't seem like there's enough meat on the bones to fill the viewer. The kids are all decent actors, but the banter between them doesn't feel as real as it did in Super 8 or Stand By Me.
I was left wondering who would enjoy this movie. If it had been released in the '80s, then 15-year-old me would definitely have loved it. Older me, however, isn't as satisfied. Would a 15-year-old today enjoy it, or would the strangeness of a world where kids have to use walkie talkies and phones attached to wires (gasp!) only serve to alienate them further from the plot? I honestly have no idea.
In the end, Summer of '84 is a slow-burn mystery that finds its steam a little too late, but I'd still recommend it to anyone who saw the trailer and is interested. There isn't much gore, but there is some fun to be had, a nice synth score courtesy of Le Matos (Turbo Kid), and one moment where the turn of events caused me to wince.
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