In the tradition of Stephen King tales like Stand By Me and It, and modern endeavours such as Netflix’s much-loved Stranger Things, Summer of ’84 is a story of childhood drama that is interwoven with tropes of horror and mystery.
Summer of ’84 follows a group of young teenage boys during their summer break; they talk about sex and girls, they make fun of each other and, of course, there’s the classic riding the bike around town. Like a typical murder-mystery or whodunit, the film drives into quiet horror territory when the boys think their neighbour is a serial killer. The binoculars come out, the curtains start to twitch and the kids make it their mission to prove that hiding behind Mr Mackey’s (Rich Sommer) guise of normality is a stone-cold killer. Oh, did I mention that he’s a police officer?
The film follows a familiar route and, honestly, I was nervous. As a HUGE fan of Francois Simard, Anouk Whissel and Yoann-Karl Whissell’s super retro horror-actioner Turbo Kid, I was worried that they’d peaked in 2015. Turbo Kid managed to ace its desire to blend a fun ‘80s-throwback with elements of humour and gory action, plus a hearty dose of emotion. It was brilliant and to match that, Summer of ‘84 would have to do something special.
Nonetheless, Summer of ’84 did do something special. It successfully jumps from trope to trope, hitting all those familiar beats I was getting ready to tear it down for, before abandoning everything. This film has one hell of an epic shift in tone and it made me want to stand up and applaud. Aside from a shoe-horned in romantic sub-plot, which purely felt like a desperate attempt at getting a female character in there, you should expect the unexpected. Beneath those expectations there is a dark and unpredictable beast waiting to rear its head.
Summer of ’84 goes full on Rear Window as the boys – lead by the conspiracy-obsessed Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere) –memorise Mr Mackey’s entire schedule in the hope of finding the proof they need to show they’re not imagining things. The young ensemble cast here could give those Stranger Things kids a run for their money. They’re 10x dirtier and 10x funnier, with laugh-out-loud, crude jokes that are certainly NSFW. Judah Lewis as “Eats” has some of the film’s best gags as he torments his pal Woody (Caleb Emery) with jokes about his mum. The jokes aren’t clever or smart, but when they landed they were excellent.
As the audience, we’re on their side and we want them to be right, but it’s difficult to shake that niggling feeling that the adults are right. He’s a good guy, he’s been their neighbour for years and he’s a police officer. Or is it the perfect disguise? Despite the feeling of predictability that drapes over this story like a fog, there is still a tiny part of us that wants to believe.
Within this back-and-forth story and subtle cat-and-mouse chase, there is plenty of ‘80s nostalgia for those that wish to relive their childhoods. From the kids’ clothes and hairstyles, to their film and TV chats to their obsession with Boudoir magazine and the synthy soundtrack that weaves in and out to further remind us of the ’84 setting, it’s filled with obvious, but appropriate drops of reminiscence.
Summer of ’84 proves that this trio of directors are masters of what they do: crafting a film with a mask of predictability that reveals itself to be something else entirely. This is another entertaining and loud-out-loud retro horror, that may not be as bloody, but is certainly a dark and compelling rollercoaster ride.