My notes on Summer of 84, which opens in the US on August 10 – and will have its UK premiere at FrightFest on August 23.
The Canadian directing triad of François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell got into the retro-80s genre pastiche trend – which runs riot throughout FrightFest this year in multiple titles – with the spirited Turbo Kid. Here, though there are parallels with ‘80s teen movies as varied as Explorers and River’s Edge, the team tone down the homaging and even rein in the nostalgia trivia found in It or Stranger Things in order to play a more serious game … harping a little on the Rear Window or The ‘burbs premises, and maybe even delivering a non-supernatural take on Fright Night (in the ‘80s, Tom Holland obsessively returned to the Boy Who Cried Wolf story, which manifested also in stuff like Silver Bullet and the Elm St movies).
Regular fifteen-year-old protagonist Davey (Graham Verchere) lives in a quiet, friendly small town and pals around in the woods with his longtime friends Eats (Judah Lewis), the tough-talking would-be hoodlum, Woody (Caleb Emery), the sensitive big kid, and Curtis (Corey Gruter-Andrew), the fey smart one. The quartet aren’t so much a misfits or losers’ club as stuck in an awkward stage between kidness and adolescence … which is nicely conveyed by the way Davey starts to be offended by the horny banter directed at Nikki (Tiera Skovbye), the girl from across the road, whom he shyly likes to the point when he’s uncomfortable if his friends fantasise out loud about her as if she were a pinup not a real person. In limbo during the long school holidays of an election year, the gang are invisible to grown-ups and all getting a sense that they’re going through big changes. The wolf in this fold is the Cape May Slayer, a child-killer active in the locality, and Davey has a hunch that his neighbour, local cop Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer), is the culprit, and when a kid he’s glimpsed in Mackey’s house shows up as a missing poster on a milk carton he’s pretty certain that he’s solved the case. It’s not mentioned, but Davey’s intuition isn’t all that far-fetched – several serial killers had low-level law enforcement gigs (traffic cop, security guard) and pretty much every TV movie of the era and a range of slashers including The Prowler and The Dead Zone pinned the killings on a small-town Officer Friendly.
There’s a nice simmering tension in the cat and mouse story, with the kids investigating – daring to trespass in Mackey’s house, where he has a lot of suspect gardening equipment he turns out to have an infuriatingly reasonable explanation for (even the quicklime) – and the cop going out of his way to be accommodating to the enthusiastic youngsters rather than throw the book at them. Albert Brooks lookalike Sommer is amusing with hints of menace as the too-affable-to-be-true lawman. The script, by Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith, doesn’t get too twisted – in fact, a few more surprises might not have gone amiss – and the serial killer storyline often goes on pause just so we can hang out some more with the kids. Less hung up on the pop culture detritus of an ‘80s childhood than most films in this cycle – the period details are telling, but the RKSS collective don’t go overboard with music or film references – but cannily uses its setting, before the internet and social media fuelled mass paranoia about every danger to kids (not that the ‘80s was free of such panics), to stress the vulnerability of its good-hearted, but crucially not-streetwise junior heroes.
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