Summer of 84, 2018.
Directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell..
Starring Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, and Rich Sommer.
Davey thinks his police officer neighbour Mr. Mackey is the serial killer the local press have dubbed the Cape May Slayer. With his three friends Eats, Woody and Curtis, Davey starts to investigate under the guise of one of their normal suburban games. For his own part Mackey seems to have a good humour about Davey’s suspicions, spying and evidence gathering, but is he just giving them all a false sense of security? Then they start getting closer to the truth and the danger escalates.
In 1975, Stephen King released his second novel, Salem’s Lot, introducing readers around the world to his particular brand of small town horror. Following that, he released numerous books that dealt with small town terror, particularly focusing on small town life from the point of view of children – The Body and It being the most obvious examples. By 1990, he’d moved away from this style, cementing those particular stories as part of 80’s pop culture.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, because in case you’ve been in a pop-culture-proof shell, the 80s are back, at least as far as entertainment is concerned, and nowhere is that 80s vibe felt more than in the horror genre. A number of films and TV shows are being produced that pay either pay homage to King’s work – Stranger Things being the most obvious example – or simply remake it, and hanging on the coattails of this renaissance is Summer of 84. For that reason, in order to properly asses 84, you must understand where it comes from.
In traditional King fashion, 84’s story follows four young kids as they attempt to unravel a mystery in their suburbs. A killer is on the loose, and the leader of the gang Davey (Graham Verchere) is convinced that the killer is none other than local police officer and little league coach Mr Mackay (Rich Sommer). With his friends, he sets out to prove to the world that Mackey really is the killer.
There is a good deal of intrigue in 84, and evidence piles sufficiently on each side of the is-he-or-isn’t-he case. It’s not until the final fifteen minutes that audiences’ questions are definitely answered, and when they are, the truth really hits home. This is mostly thanks to the film’s slick writing and constant use of red herrings, as well as a great performance by Sommer, who is equal parts creepy and believably innocent.
The true test of any King-esque horror movie is its characterisation, and though 84 doesn’t pass with flying colours, it certainly passes. The four kids are fun, quirky, and full of quippy one liners. However, they are also all fairly one-dimensional. There’s the nerdy one, the fat one, the bad one, and the leader. Though there are brief flashes of each character’s home life, they really are brief flashes, and offer little more than an explanation as to why they are the way they are. I don’t expect to see quite the level of character development I’d see in a King novel, but this doesn’t even have the level seen in the 2017 adaptation of It.
This lack of depth is unfortunate but is not 84’s biggest weakness. That would be its originality. The film tries so damn hard to be an 80s nostalgia flick that it forgets to do anything new, and as such comes across as an unashamed love letter to the time period, rather than a classic piece of revival cinema. This is even clear in the film’s opening seconds, which see Davey riding his bike through the suburbs of Derry Ipswich, commenting on how all small towns have their secrets, and how no one knows what others get up to in the privacy of their own homes. Could they be any more bloody obvious?!
Despite everything I’ve just said, I found myself thoroughly enjoying Summer of 84. Sure, it’s aesthetic is derivative as hell, but the specifics of its story keep the intrigue going. There are some memorable performances, and the script is tight, even if it is formulaic. But most importantly, like the films it tries so hard to emulate, it has soul. And for that reason alone, it’s worth your time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
James Turner is a writer and musician based in Sheffield. You can follow him on Twitter @JTAuthor