Chris is a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and a writer/contributor at Bounding into Comics and God Hates Geeks.
From directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (Turbo Kid) and first time screenwriters Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith, Summer of 84 is a horror film that fails to ever actually provide any sort of horror. The film follows four teenage boys during their summer vacation. Davey (Graham Verchere, Woody Woodpecker) believes that his neighbor Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer, Hello, My Name is Doris) is the local serial killer known as the Cape May Slayer who has 15 victims to his name. As Davey and his three friends Tommy “Eats” Eaton (Judah Lewis, Demolition), Dale “Woody” Woodworth (Caleb Emery, Goosebumps), and Curtis Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew, Okja) investigate Mr. Mackey with dead-end leads and no proof, they continue to turn up empty handed but Davey has a gut instinct that says otherwise even if his friends and his parents believe that it’s time to throw in the towel.
The majority of the film is spent with Davey and his friends as they tail, stakeout, and spy on Wayne Mackey. The film alludes to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window while the forced subjection to teenage antics will likely remind you of something like The Goonies or Stranger Things. The highlight of Summer of 84 is its soundtrack which is synth driven and obvious homage to John Carpenter and 80s films in general.
There’s chemistry between the four boys, but their infatuation with sex gets to be too much long before the film reaches the halfway point. Teenage boys are obsessed with sex at that age anyway, but the constant references to masturbation, having intercourse with one of the boys’ moms, and the overwhelming desire to shove their members into any sort of deep hole they encounter during everyday tasks is ultimately annoying rather than amusing in any sort of way.
When the boys aren’t digging through trash, riding their BMX bikes, loitering at the bowling alley, or looking at porno magazines in their clubhouse, they’re busy crushing on Nikki Kaszuba (Tiera Skovbye, Riverdale). Nikki lives next door to Davey, who has been in love with her since she babysat him years ago. With Nikki on the verge of leaving town due to college and forthcoming adult commitments, Davey takes it upon himself to treat Nikki like a person rather than the sex object his friends see her as. When surveillance on Mr. Mackey sidetracks it’s usually because Davey and his friends are talking about or spying on Nikki.
It takes so long for anything remotely eventful to take place. Summer of 84 seems to milk Davey’s hunt coming up evidence-less for nearly its entire 105-minute duration. The last five minutes go in a direction horror films usually don’t with the killer taking a cerebral route over a more physical one. It’s admirable on one hand since it’s refreshing to see something different injected into the likes of the horror film formula; something that typically caters to being PG-13 and "crowd-pleasing" while being overloaded with jump scares. Summer of 84 leaves things open. Monsters and boogeymen roam the streets without getting caught all the time in stories like this. Not knowing when they’ll strike is more terrifying than a kill in front of the victim’s face. On the other hand though, a bloody, out-in-the-open kill would have been a nice payoff for sitting through a huge 90-minute tease. Instead the film leaves gore fans with blue balls and sore groins.
Summer of 84 is more of an accurate retelling of what it was like growing up as a teenage boy in the 80s rather than a legitimate horror film. You find yourself invested in the outcome because the film takes so long planting seeds and stringing you along with results that seem to be taking the audience and the story in a specific direction, but the finale lacks satisfaction. The body count is in the lower single digits and the scares are practically nonexistent, but there is a legitimate atmosphere established that channels the time period quite well and Summer of 84 deserves some sort of recognition for that. Super Dark Times, which is currently streaming on Netflix, is the exact opposite of Summer of 84 as it provides more blood and more tension with a bleaker ambience. Super Dark Times comes highly recommended while Summer of 84 may not be worth unearthing from the 100-pounds of dirt Mr. Mackey obtains a week in the film.
© 2018 Chris Sawin
KEVIN BEN'S on October 19, 2018:
Just watched summer of 84,what a great cast and a great movie!