Summer of '84: True Crime Nostalgia
Dir. Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell (2018)
A group of teenagers begin to suspect that their next-door neighbor is a serial killer.
The indie horror darling of 2018, Summer of ’84 is a coming-of-age tale about four teenage boys who become suspicious that their neighbor is the one responsible for an outbreak of missing children. They’re typical teenagers, spending their free time reading girly mags in their treehouse while lamenting the inevitable realization that they’re growing up. It’s one of those magical summers, where you stay out late with your friends, play the types of games around the neighborhood that only teenage boys find entertaining, and create the kind of magical experiences that you remember for the rest of your lives. After overhearing a phone call meant for his news cameraman father, the boys realize that there’s an active serial killer in their midst and are determined to investigate until they find the culprit. When their police officer neighbor comes under their suspicion, the boys become involved in a game of cat and mouse that may cost them their lives.
The movie is nostalgic as all hell, with an 80’s inspired score and soundtrack, period-accurate vehicles and slang, and plenty of dated references that the kids who starred in the film probably have no idea about. The film fits into the same archetype as any of the films of its type, the most notably being Stand By Me. There’s the main character and leader of the group, in this case Graham Verchere’s Davey; the geeky member of the friends, Cory Gruter-Andrew’s Farraday; the chubby one, Caleb Emery’s Woody; and finally the “badass” of the group, Judah Lewis’ Eats. Lewis is the best known of the group, as the star of the Babysitter movies (in which he’s fantastic), but all of the teens do an excellent job in the film and accurately portray children of the 80’s. Where the film really shines, however, is the general feel and ambience portrayed by the quiet, unassuming neighborhood of the film, which is almost a character unto itself.
Everything’s so yellow…
The boys get into typical trouble, stealing alcohol from one of their dads, joyriding in one of their moms’ car, playing an older-kids version of flashlight tag that they call Manhunt in the streets. Once they start to suspect their neighbor of the killings, they incorporate Manhunt into an actual investigative game. The doors are all unlocked, the perfect preying ground for a serial killer of children. But it’s a small town, where the trouble you can get in is limited by the friendships your parents have with the local cops (unless you actually run into a serial killer, of course). For anyone who grew up in a similar town, the décor and the atmosphere will be very familiar. The story isn’t breaking new ground: you’ve seen plenty of movies with relatively the same plot as this one, and you’re not going to come across any real surprises. But the movie is well-made and it hits the same sweet spot that so many of the newer period pieces do, stroking those personal memories that older horror fans all share.
Like that time they found out their neighbor was a serial killer.
A movie of this kind has been done better, but rarely, and practically never once it’s all said and done. It’s a great film that successfully builds tension throughout, and it’s one of the better suspenseful horror films in recent memory. It’s always hard to go into a film like this and tell beforehand whether the hype is worth it, as so many are letdowns of epic proportions. I can’t count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone into a film hyped as fuck only to feel like all of the wind was taken from my sails. Thankfully, this does not end up being the case with Summer of ‘84. As long as you can pace yourself with the slow burn, this film is definitely worth the high praise that its been given since its release. It’s smart, interesting, and, for fans of true crime, a vicarious dream come true. The ending is going to be a turnoff for some, but I thought it was excellent and a nice surprise after all of the buildup.
Who this movie is for: Nostalgic horror fans; Suspense lovers; Little boys who weren’t on milk cartons
Bottom line: Summer of ’84 is an incredibly well-done nostalgic gem, a testament to both the draw of the 80’s and the satisfaction of watching suspense reach its conclusion. It was extremely hyped when it came out, but its worth every penny of the excitement. This one is a must-see for horror fans. It’s an ode to both true crime and coming of age films, and it’s well worth the watch.