I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
SUMMER OF ’84
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.
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.
SUMMER OF ’84 is playing in select theaters today, and will release on iTunes and other digital formats on Aug. 24.