Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Movie Review: Summer of 84

Summer of 84 ** ½ / *****
Directed by: François Simard and Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell.
Written by: Matt Leslie & Stephen J. Smith.
Starring: Graham Verchere (Davey Armstrong), Judah Lewis (Tommy 'Eats' Eaton), Caleb Emery (Dale 'Woody' Woodworth), Cory Gruter-Andrew (Curtis Farraday), Tiera Skovbye (Nikki Kaszuba), Rich Sommer (Wayne Mackey), Jason Gray-Stanford (Randall Armstrong), Shauna Johannesen (Sheila Armstrong). 
For those of you who haven’t had enough of “kids on bikes” horror in the past few years with It and Stranger Things, now comes Summer of 84 – a film about four young teenagers in suburbia, who believe the cop who lives next door to one of them, is really the serial killer who is killing young boys just like them. For about two thirds of the film, it’s really a pretty straight forward, by-the-numbers film, which is good enough to hold your interest, but not good enough to become really involving. The last act really is the strongest – and becomes truly scary, and goes to darker places than you expect it to. By then though, it’s perhaps it’s too little, too late.
The four boys at the center of Summer of 84 are straight out central casting for four geeky kids from the 1980s. Davey (Graham Verchere) is the leader of the group – the one who lives next door to the hot older girl Nikki (Tiera Skovbye), who has a soft spot for him, and across the street from the suspected serial killer, Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer). His best friends are the chubby Woody (Caleb Emery), the geekiest of the bunch Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) and what qualifies as the rebel of the group, Eats (Judah Lewis). They do what kids in the 1980s did – at least according to the movies – which is to debate pop culture, and talk a lot about tits. One of the main problems with the early scenes in Summer of 84 is that none of the dialogue these four have seems real – it all plays like the screenwriters just copied the work in those other films, without giving it any real flavor. It’s clear the screenwriters like Stephen King – but do they like anything else? Do they have any real insight into these kids?
For reasons too complicated to explain, they start thinking the friendly neighbor across the street is a serial killer – and do the kind of investigation that kids in these types of movies do – they dig through his trash, dig up his backyard, follow him, break into his house, etc. They find a lot of weird stuff – but nothing outwardly damning. Of course, their investigation will eventually be discovered, they’ll get in trouble from their parents – and then regroup for one last kick at the can.
The final act of the film is both the best of the film and the least believable of the film. It is genuinely frightening, especially a lengthy sequence out in the woods. The film goes to some genuinely dark places in that act – darker than you would expect in a film with the first two acts we see here. The film even has a satisfying ending – something very few films like this have (King has always struggled with endings) – because it doesn’t wrap everything up, doesn’t lift the darkness off of the material. In fact, if it’s possible, things are worse at the end of the film than they are at the beginning. To get there though, we have to get through some very questionable plot mechanics, that make no logical sense.
What I will say about the film, is that I admire much of the look of the film by the trio of directors - François Simard and Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell. I do think their pacing could improve – the film is too long, and lags at times, and takes it time getting to the finale. Once there though, they do an expert job at staging it. If the screenplay was better, I think these three could make a genuinely scary film.
Summer of 84 is ultimately too derivative to be that though. It’s not a bad film, and it may well scratch that itch you have as we wait for It 2 and Stranger Things 3 – although, let’s be honest, there’s a lot of films that have tread this ground before, and many of them are far superior to Summer of 84.

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