Boredom is easily trumped by excitement when it comes to the promise of an endless summer filled with carefree activities and prospective mystery. When reminiscing on the important moments of past adolescence, nostalgia hits like a wave of heat cooled off only by the setting sun and glimmer of flashlights, especially that set in the rich cultural movement of the 1980’s.
Directors Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell, and François Simard (Turbo Kid) capture that simplistic dream with a hint of adventure in their domestic thriller, Summer Of 84. However, this one is not all diners by day and sleepovers by night. The summer season finds a quaint residential Oregon town in the crux of tragedy as young boys begin to show up on the sides of milk cartons. What kind of horror could possibly reach the edge of innocence in such an altruistic setting? The answer is not so simple: adulthood, family turmoil, change, and a serial killer hidden in plain sight.
“If you’re looking for a bite out of retro horror, appreciate dark humor, and enjoy a gripping mystery, Summer Of 84 is sure to satisfy.”
Starring Graham Verchere (Stargirl), Judah Lewis (The Babysitter), Caleb Emery (Goosebumps), Tiera Skovbye (Once Upon A Time), Cory Gruter-Andrew (Anne With An E), Rich Sommer (Madmen), Jason Gray-Stanford (Monk), and Shauna Johannesen (Bedbugs: A Musical Love Story), 2018’s Summer Of 84 follows young conspiracy theorist Davey Armstrong and his friends as they use their spare time attempting to solve the slew of murders, those of boys their age, in and around their town of Cape May.
With an authentic screenplay by feature debut writers Stephen J. Smith and Matt Leslie and a fast-paced hour and 45-minute runtime, the narrative plays on a dreadful truth buried deep below the grounds of youth. As Davey begins to suspect one neighbor in particular, a trusted local police officer, he and his friends find themselves in a dangerous investigation that forces them to grow up for one last daring game of man hunt.
It’s Hard To Pass Up An Adventure
There is a reason that the looks, feels, and trends of the 80’s are so happening and it has all to do with ever existing nostalgia. The art of growing up and all of its cultural indulgences pull together to craft a devastating portrait of youth at the peak of the Reagan era. The elements of a carefree summer are considerably palpable as the boys comb the streets of their neighborhood. Organic nods to recognizable pieces of 80’s American culture are made to enhance the spirit setting the scene of Summer Of 84. The characters, especially Davey and his friends, carry a certain charisma through each role that drive young talent and meaningful performances. Overall, the writing and direction join hands to form content in the vein of Amblin Entertainment supported by the works of Stephen King meets Stranger Things and Disturbia that breathes the air of Unsolved Mysteries. The comforting atmosphere is contagious and the hint of adventure hangs heavy.
Coming-of-age stories are practical staple narratives in the horror genre. The pains and issues of growing up and growing apart feed on the fear of average kids like no monster out there. As the boys face a predator in Summer Of 84, they also find themselves as counterparts in the troubles of young love, sex, absent parents, divorce, and a “doomed future” towards the end of The Cold War. Their fight through the strange, yet natural, dichotomy of childhood to adulthood may take a backseat to the case of The Cape May Slayer, but it also adds a distinct level of relevant, relatable stress to their endeavors. The cross between the adults and the children makes for an interesting dynamic that pushes the plot to some unique spaces of disbelief and paints a raw portrait of coming-of-age nuance. Davey’s summer adventure cycles through the grave streets of summer desperation, an active imagination, parental conflict, friendship dependency, growing up, and the obvious, a serial killer living next door. As viewers, we’re just along for the ride.
That’s Why They Invented Curtains
Crime stories have a way of weaving in between the genres of drama and horror alike. Blending reality with fictitious horror has a unique effect on viewers as they are more likely to place themselves in the shoes of a protagonist on the verge of danger. Despite the heroes of the narrative being a group of young boys, Summer Of ‘84 effectively utilizes the well-worn shoes of adolescence. All viewers were the particular ages of Davey and his friends at some point, which fulfills a longing, proverbial sense of naivety and adventure. Combating the boredom of their small town, suspicions run high and force observers to ask the same questions as the investigators. Playing on the notions of subtle obsession and thrill-seeking, the audience can easily be swayed by the evidence, or lack thereof, but the depth and darkness of the tone applies a more sophisticated palette. Set in the common, but haunting territory of disturbia, all schemes of this love letter to 80’s childhood are shrouded in curtains hiding something more just beneath the surface.
Sentiment is grounded in playful dialogue that double dips in both maturity and juvenile relations. Opening the characterization to both realistic emotions and domestic horror, Summer Of 84 harnesses the power of mystery in its surroundings and its narrative. While not drastically artistic or eclectic in style, aside from its sound and vibe, the scenes and set pieces make for a great collection of imagery. From a missing child on a milk carton next to an innocent sandwich to the lingering gaze on the girl next door to a group of youngsters coming together in bold courage to bring down a child murderer, the contrast is subtle, but earnestly present. Decorated in red herrings, theories, and false ends, chasing the lead with suspense is half of the fun. There is plenty of movement to keep what could be a predictable third act secretive and fresh. The layers of complications in family life, local murder, and puberty are tacked together in a reflective story tied together with a gut-punch ending intended to hurt in all the right places.
Operation Mack Attack
Even serial killers live next door to somebody. The streets of suburbia are ideal hunting grounds for a dangerous wolf in sheep’s clothing like The Cape May Slayer. The serial stalking and murder of young boys in a sleepy town like the one pictured in Summer Of 84’s Ipswich may seems like an imaginative situation ripped from the pages of a crime paperback, but it lives on the unfortunate headlines of reality. As the pre-teen kids disappear without a trace, Davey and his friends set their sites on one suspect in particular that hits closer to home than any of them would expect. A predator of this caliber is a worthy villain to represent the hidden threats and dangers that reside in suburbia. The unspoken rules of neighborly trust and normalcy take a drastic turn as the reputable police deputy, Wayne Mackey, not only fits the killer’s profile, but also fills the boys’ target points of interest. His suspicious behaviors launch a full-blown, undercover spy ensemble with a taste of hesitation. While Mackey’s presence in the neighborhood goes from jovial to menacing, the mood of Summer Of 84 is set in uncertain doubt.
Rich Sommer’s boyish good looks and charming demeanor really allow him to lean into his role as Wayne Mackey. As a helpful friend and role model to adults and kids alike, he is the perfect specimen for hiding nefarious criminal activity. Being an authority figure as a police officer and his welcoming, controlled performance gives Mackey a suspicious contrast to the boys’ accusations, but also provides for one mean villain that tricks our sense of character. A child abductor and murder is the worst thing next to a blood thirsty monster who eats kids, elevating the horror of reality to serious circumstances. Mackey, and everything he stands for, is parent’s, and kids’, worst nightmare. The separation of trust, expectation, doubt, and wariness is one of the strongest themes throughout Summer Of 84 and also happens to be one of its most crippling truths. Mackey would be a prime example of the things that go bump in the night in suburbia… or would he? This one really keeps you guessing until the third act unfolds in dark, damaging fashion.
“Summer Of 84 finds both attitude and heart in its content, the same way a perfect summer does. “
If you’re looking for a bite out of retro horror, appreciate dark humor, and enjoy a gripping mystery, Summer Of 84 is sure to satisfy. All of the elements, from the performances to the sound, are made with quality and pride giving substantial reason to much of its critical success. First time viewers are advised to keep an open mind should they begin to think the story is predictable and that they have solved the case. The engaging turn of events brings a meaningful sense of fear to the unknown. Like the film itself, there is so much more to dig into when it comes to this small town terror. Summer Of 84 finds both attitude and heart in its content, the same way a perfect summer does.
Summer Of 84 is currently streaming on Shudder. Are you a fan of this 2018 coming-of-age mystery? Did you enjoy the 80’s style era of suburban horror? What are your thoughts on Summer of 84? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!