Opening on August 17th is International Horror & Sci-Fi Selection, Summer of '84. We've brought in guest contributor, Matthew Robinson to take a special look at this one.
You can find Matthew's weekly reviews over at Darkofthematinee.com
Nostalgia is everywhere these days, particularly for the 1980's. The success of Stranger Things has created a market for thrillers set during this time involving young adults. The directing trio of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell hit all the marks of films like Super 8 or It and yet there is something a missing from Summer of '84. The film feels like a cover of a great 80's song and depending on your appetite for nostalgia, you may find enough here to satisfy.
The opening voice-over reminds us that "Even serial killers live next door to somebody." This sets up a familiar yet fun plot of suburban paranoia that evokes Disturbia which evoked Rear Window. Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere) and his friends Tommy (Judah Lewis), Dale (Caleb Emery), Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) and Nikki (Tiera Skovbye) get caught up in believing a neighbor of theirs is killing children in their sleepy town. Worst yet, he is a cop named McKay (Rich Sommer). They soon begin investigating and spying on their neighbor, their curiosity driving the plot forward.
The characters here are pretty standard for this type of story. Davey is pure and just, leading the friends. Dale is the fat kid, who seems like a token character for horror films involving young kids. They don't stand out as dynamic characters. This is largely the fault of the screenplay that reduces them to archetypes and never gives them much depth. The cast of teens do a fine job and do create chemistry between them. This helps to overshadow the fact that they don't necessarily make sense as a collective. How the hot girl and the bully team up with the fat kid and the nerd is a bit illogical and yet in the moment, you may not mind thanks to some funny dialogue exchanges.
The same is true of the plot which will feel familiar to any horror fan. We can guess early on if Davey is right about McKay. That isn't to say there isn't a fun surprise or two within Summer of '84, just that one shouldn't expect anything they haven't seen before. The film is well paced and directed with an eye for era. Le Matos's score pulsates and evokes the synth-wave music of the time.
Sommer as McKay, is particularly good. His performance keeps you guessing if he is evil or not thanks to his balancing of creepy yet good cop-like behavior. He keeps the film interesting even as it hits so many familiar beats. Sommer wisely avoids going big in the finale as well, keeping McKay a complex and unsettling mix of sinister and socially adjusted. There is never a question of how a cop like him could potentially be a killer and go unnoticed.
Summer of '84 is worth your time if you can't get enough of the 80's nostalgia wave. While it isn't original, it does satisfy what you want from a film like this. The kid cast is solid all around but McKay is the standout here, giving a genuinely unsettling performance. The directing team recreate elements of 1984 and give the film an authentic look on what is clearly a low-budget. Kudos to them for achieving a convincing suburban setting. The film shows promise from them and I look forward to seeing what they do next.