Summer Of 84

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Summer Of 84 (2018) is another in a long line of recent horror films that draws heavily on 80s nostalgia. The screenwriters of this opus, Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith, re-imagine Joe Dante’s masterful satire The Burbs (1989) as a coming of age story where the suspicious Klopeks are replaced by a John Wayne Gacy type. It may not sound like anything new, but this amalgamation of narrative tropes actually works rather well together. So where the 80s milieu of the film feels trendy and hollow, the actual dramatic beats are quite affecting.

Summer Of 84 concerns four friends (Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, and Cory Gruter-Andrew) who investigate their neighbor Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer), whom they suspect is the “Cape May Slayer”, over the course of the titular summer. Along the way some discover first love (Tiera Skovbye) while others cope with broken homes and absentee parents. It’s these latter elements that give Summer Of 84 its real flavor as a character driven thriller.

The acting is generally very good, especially for younger players. This adds both agency and authenticity to the dramatic world of the film. Summer Of 84 was directed by three different filmmakers (Fran├žois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell) working in tandem. This makes the relative quality of the acting in Summer Of 84 all the more surprising. What isn’t surprising, however, is the absence of really strong and dynamic visuals.

The horror genre is more dependent than most kinds of films on really graphic compositions. There are some nods in that direction in the scene where three of the kids break into the serial killer’s basement but any sense of contrast in the images is kept deluded by a lighting scheme that is too diegetically motivated. Stylization as a whole is better suggested by the synth themes on the soundtrack which do the heavy lifting typically relegated to the use of recurring visual motifs.

Summer Of 84, even with these weaknesses, is still a better brand of 80s nostalgia porn than most. Unfortunately it’s just not good enough to be all that memorable in the end. Perhaps the follow-up feature from this team of filmmakers will be more successful aesthetically.