Stranger Things meets Disturbia in this mystery summer flick from the Turbo Kid (2015) trio, François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell. The Canadian film collective will ooze the 80’s nostalgia on to the opening night of Arrow Video Frightfest 2018, with this thrilling, adolescent nightmare that guarantees equal proportions of friendship, growing pains and terror when a teenage boy starts to suspect that his police officer neighbour is a wanted serial killer.
Summer of ‘84 is a confident effort, the filmmakers know exactly the kind of film they have wanted to create and just run with it to a successful effect. The dark underbelly of Suburbia is at the forefront; establishing early on the notion of no one truly knows what goes on behind closed doors, which allows for an abundance of nail-biting suspense. Summer of ‘84 is an undeniable homage to the films of the 80’s era that preceded it, from the Spielberg classics to the coming of age tales of Stephen King. Joe Dante’s The Burbs (1989) patently serves as a key influence, also. To cap it off, thanks to the success of The Duffer Brothers, Netflix series, Stranger Things (2016- ) and the 2017 reboot of IT, the influence of the 80’s retro vibe is searing through the current pop culture sphere; bringing in an appealing style and aesthetic to genre audiences.
What separate’s Summer of ‘84 from its modern counterparts is that it takes its base from them in the set-up of its core group however in place of an emblematic supernatural being, the threat is very much human. There’s nothing scarier than the paranoia and the danger these characters subsequently put themselves in, but the question is, have they rumbled a sadistic child killer or are they completely barking up the wrong tree?
The central characters led by the inquisitive Davey (Graham Verchere) are well established from the get-go. Each of the young actors accomplishes a sense that the group, despite how different they all are, have a tight bond as they navigate the tribulations of adolescence. There’s Judah Lewis, who shone in 2017’s The Babysitter, as Eats, the rebel with a tough home life. Caleb Emery as the older brother figure, Woody and Cory Gruter-Andrew as the nerdy Curtis.
Throw in the cute, over-confident girl-next-door with Tiera Skovbye’s Nikki, and you have a group that could rival, The Losers Club. They’re all archetypal however, writing team Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith offer up some layered character development so they never feel one-dimensional or just carbon copies of the IT or Stranger Things kids. There’s more of a crude, boyish level of teenage humour which adds to the authenticity of their age group, again setting it apart from the previously mentioned similar works.
Another recurring theme of this sub-genre that is well-utilized is the trope of the oblivious/absentee parents. This particular convention works well in Summer of 84’ especially when the danger begins to escalate. The less the parents take their child’s fears on board, the more alone and at risk they really are. There’s an irrefutable blame placed on the parental characters, considering how many kids have gone missing which is noted in the film’s backstory. They are passive characters who inadvertently place their kids in harm’s way, which increases the ante in the situation.
Rich Sommer plays Mr. Mackey, the friendly neighbourhood cop…or so he appears. Without revealing too much, Sommer plays the role with the cards close to his chest, he delivers an indistinguishable balance between creepy and neighbourly that it is remains uncertain as to whether we should trust this man or are Davey and his friends suspicions and spy tactics completely justifiable?
Summer of ‘84 is an intensely suspenseful, engaging, mystery. There is little to no gore, meaning that the suspense is what carries off the fright factor, and wow, that suspense is undoubtedly well executed. It features a glorious retro sounding, synth score which conveys a mystique and the notion of a sinister undercurrent working within the story. Summer of ‘84 accelerates from charming to menacing to melancholic in its 105-minute runtime, the filmmakers prove that they are unafraid to take risks and that’s where the fun and chilling surprises come in to be experienced.
It will be a cruel summer on the 23rd August 2018 on the blood-soaked Cineworld Leicester Square Cinema Screens. Catch, Summer of ‘84 at 8:45pm on the Arrow Video Screen or at 9:15pm on the Horror Channel Screen.