Movie Review: ‘SUMMER OF ’84’ a ‘REAR WINDOW’ mystery for the ‘STRANGER THINGS’-loving era

0

Preston Barta // Features Editor

SUMMER OF ’84

Not rated, 105 minutes.
Director: François SimardAnouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell
Cast: Graham VerchereJudah LewisCaleb EmeryCory Gruter-AndrewTiera Skovbye and Rich Sommer

If you haven’t heard of SUMMER OF ’84, change that by watching its trailer. You’ll be surprised it hasn’t popped up on your radar yet, because it looks exactly like the ‘80s kids-on-bicycles thriller you might have grown up on, like THE GOONIES and E.T. While this idea may feel a little worn down by properties such as STRANGER THINGS, SUPER 8 and IT so hot on the plate, the night drive-inspired synth score, the summer break friendship dynamic and the central story all add up to an irresistible and highly entertaining movie.

SUMMER OF ’84 could best be described as REAR WINDOW meets STRANGER THINGS and IT, but 86 the supernatural elements. It’s about 15-year-old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere) and his best friends (Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery and Cory Gruter-Andrew) investigating a local serial killer who has been snatching up kids in their town. Davey suspects it’s his neighbor, Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer of GLOW), a police officer who lives alone and seems to be up to no good. He makes trips to the garden store to buy supplies like dirt, a pickaxe and a shovel. He claims he’s gardening, but the amount of stuff he buys doesn’t match the work to his yard. Mr. Mackey also takes long night jogs to his storage unit that contains God knows what.

But because the town, like IT, doesn’t seem to be as concerned as these teen boys are about the killer – seriously, parents will just allow these boys to play flashlight tag and walk home alone at night without many restrictions – it’s up to them to be the detectives and follow the breadcrumbs… and not die in the process.

What’s most surprising about SUMMER OF ’84, aside from the being a great hangout movie and having a slick style and jam-worthy musical score, is how it doesn’t try to be an overly clever thriller. So many movies are concerned about the audience picking up on the trail before the characters that the filmmakers complicate the story more to its dismay. SUMMER OF ’84 is dead simple, and how it leaves you is different from any movie like it. It’s actually quite haunting.

Rich Sommer is Mr. Mackey, the suspected serial killer in ‘SUMMER OF ’84.’ Courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.

To this film’s disadvantage, however, the characters often don’t have much sense, most notably the parents. I can tell you right now, if a serial killer was at large and was responsible for the death of many local kids, my parents would have already made plans to move out of town, or, at the very least, would have me sleep in the same room as them. There’s too much trust going on in this situation and that has the audience working against the film a tad. Luckily, it’s not too much of a stretch, as the kids, for the most part, stay in their own suburban neighborhood.

While I am not a child of the ‘80s, I definitely was an outdoor kid who would communicate with friends on walkie talkies, make the neighborhood my playground and would always be suspicious of people. It’s part of the thrill of growing up, and SUMMER OF ’84 captures that very well. It also doesn’t overdo it too much like STRANGER THINGS does, where the kids have posters for movies that didn’t really get attention until years later. This movie also isn’t working under the same budget as that Netflix hit show, so the whole ‘80s aesthetic isn’t overwhelming. You only have kids going to the skating rink, playing arcade games, riding bikes and driving their parents’ station wagons around town. It’s a movie that just so happens to be set in the ‘80s and doesn’t let that aspect be the only source of its appeal.

I should also mention Verchere (THE GOOD DOCTOR and FARGO series), who plays Davey. He carries the film like a pro and allows the audience to identify with his worries and driven nature. He may have the expected crush on the pretty, older neighbor girl, Nikki (Tiera Skovbye), but how the film handles that relationship is refreshing.

SUMMER OF ’84 is a movie that should be playing nationwide, and it’s shocking that it is not. Maybe it’ll find a pulse on iTunes or on disc later, but for now it’s a gem to seek out. So, if you are in need of some late night plans (the Alamo Drafthouse in Las Colinas is showing the film at 8:30 p.m. or later this week), the film is worth the trip.

[Grade B+]

SUMMER OF ’84 is playing in select theaters today, and will release on iTunes and other digital formats on Aug. 24.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.