Summer of 84 (Movie Review)

The suburbs are where the craziest things happen, and the summer of 1984 was the perfect time to be a carefree teenager searching for adventure. Enter the nostalgic new Canadian Thriller, Summer of 84, a glance into the idea that behind every closed door is a secret waiting to be discovered. The film made its world premiere earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and will be released in select theaters on Friday, August 10, 2018, before ultimately becoming available on VOD and Digital HD on August 24th, all thanks to Gunpowder & Smoke and Brightlight Pictures.

Summer of 84 still.

In Ipswich, Oregon, fifteen-year-old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere: Fargo series, The Good Doctor series) is a paper-boy and amateur conspiracy theorist who loves nothing more than a great, late night game of Manhunt with his buddies. The best of those buds include punk rock lock-picker Tommy ‘Eats’ Eaton (Judah Lewis: Demolition 2015, The Babysitter 2017) and geeks Dale ‘Woody’ Woodworth (Caleb Emery: Goosebumps 2015, Logan Lucky 2017) and Curtis Farraday (Cody Gruter-Andrew: The 100 series, Okja 2017). When they’re not playing games, the four boys enjoy hanging out in their treehouse meeting place, perusing dirty magazines, sipping on smuggled whiskey, and talking about girls. Don’t worry: plenty of “your mom” jokes are included!

Unfortunately, not all is exactly G.I. Joes and My Little Ponies in the community, and over a dozen young boys have gone missing within the surrounding, 10-town radius throughout the years. The entire case is a baffling, headline-blazing mystery in Ipswich, until a letter turns up at the local news station proclaiming that this currently active serial killer – dubbed the Cape May Slayer – is claiming prideful responsibility for fifteen deaths. Davey is excited by the idea of a killer on the loose, and immediately turns his sights toward solving the mystery of the Slayer’s identity.

Almost instantly, he turns his sleuth-ful attentions toward his neighbor, Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer: Mad Men series, GLOW series), a local police officer who coaches Little League. In fact, the evidence against Mr. Mackey seems to add up before the investigation has even began: he has a strange, padlocked door in his basement; all the windows to that basement are blacked out; he has purchasing tons of bagged soil at the local hardware shop, along with a shovel and a truly ominous pickaxe; and Davey swears he saw one of the missing boys chatting with Mr. Mackey right before his disappearance.

Summer of 84 still.

As the boys quickly toss themselves into Operation: Mack Attack, their entire search will quickly boil down to one central question: is Mr. Mackey just a super-kindly, lonely neighborhood man who adores children, or is something much more sinister at play? Worse yet, will Davey’s obsessive search for answers lead him to become a hero who gets the girl, or will he ultimately be a boy shamed for his childish pursuits?

Clocking in at 105 minutes in length, Summer of 84 was directed by the Montreal filmmaking collective RKSS (T Is For Turbo short 2011, Turbo Kid 2015), which consists of François Simard and brother and sister Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell. It also stars Tiera Skovbye (Riverdale series, Midnight Sun 2018) as Nikki Kaszuba, Davey’s former babysitter, sexy ‘older woman’, and love interest; Jason Gray-Stanford (A Beautiful Mind 2001, Monk series) as Davey’s father, Randall; Shauna Johannesen (Bedbugs: A Musical Love Story short 2014, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever TV movie 2014) as Davey’s mother Sheila; Aren Buchholz (Supernatural series, When Calls the Heart series) as Tommy’s older brother, Kyle; and J. Alex Brinson (iZombie series, Travelers series) as kindly Officer Cole.

Summer of 84 is a delicious journey back in time to better, happier days – despite those pesky serial killings – with hideous station wagons and Reagan/Bush lawn signs, references to everything from Noxzema to Magnum P.I. and Gremlins. It is a film that looks at a time when no one locked their doors, and desperately horny young kids turned to National Geographic when in search of boobs. If you are a child of the ‘80s, all the references here are stellar and nostalgia-inspiring, from the film’s careful attention to prop details to vintage (and often appropriately heinous) wardrobe to its killer soundtrack that features Bananarama’s smash-hit “Cruel Summer.” The end result is a totally fabulous journey back in time for those of us that can remember those joy-filled days of neon spandex and wet Mogwais.

That said, Summer of 84 is, at the core of its tale, a kind of whodunnit told through the eyes of a troupe of young boys who are looking for a Goonies-sized adventure in June. The flaw here is that from the get-go, it’s abundantly obvious how this mystery will play out; but that doesn’t keep the ride from being a fully enjoyable one. As lead character Davey, Verchere does a stupendous job of holding the viewer’s interest and embodying all things morbidly curious, dangerously unrepentant teenager. He is convincing when he swoons for the beautiful Nikki, but awkward enough too to remind us of our embarrassing first crushes as teens. While his humor is never as crass as some of the other boys, he is very much one of the guys; just maybe a bit more thoughtful than some of his peers.

Summer of 84 still.

His support system – Lewis (Tommy), Emery (Woody), and Gruter-Andrew (Farraday) – are given varying roles, but all do an excellent job at playing teenage boys who are curiously exploring their world and looking for fun in whatever form it might take. Lewis fully embodies the stereotypical “punk” – pin-laden leather jacket, Punk tees and all – while Emery and Gruter-Andrew lean more toward the quiet, awkward dork characters that love their friends almost as much as they love learning. It’s a delicate balance, but each of the boys does a superb job of bringing his character fully to life, all of his intricate nuances and all. This allows us to easily lose ourselves in the story and its realistic feel.

Ultimately, all of these myriad elements come together to formulate a film that is wonderfully enjoyable to watch, especially for those of us that swoon for the ‘80s. The dialogue is perfectly nostalgic, as are the clothing and soundtrack, and each of the film’s ensemble cast do a magnificent job in their roles. While other films that aim for retro-fab can feel like Velveeta cheese or create characters that are nothing more than caricatures, Summer of 84 flawlessly captures the time period and does it justice without going off the rails.

While the idea that serial killers have to live next door to someone isn’t exactly a new thought – or a heartwarming one – Summer of 84 pulls all of its elements together to weave a tale that is fully enjoyable, even if it might creep out a few suburban soccer moms. Just when you think it’s over, it’s not – and there’s a bit of a sadistic twist. Happy to follow Davey into the basement, CrypticRock gives Summer of 84 4.5 of 5 stars.

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