29th Aug2018

Frightfest 2018: ‘Summer of 84’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer, Jason Gray-Stanford, Shauna Johannesen | Written by Matt Leslie, Stephen J. Smith | Directed by Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell


The Turbo Kid directing trio (known collectively as RKSS) return with this ’80s teen adventure homage that taps into the same nostalgic vein as Stranger Things or the recent remake of Stephen King’s It. Affectionately made and superbly acted, it’s shot through with a streak of darkness that delivers genuine chills.

Summer of 84‘s hero is fifteen year old Davey (Graham Verchere), a conspiracy theory obsessive who’s dividing the summer between his paper round and hanging out with his three best friends: chubby, sensitive Woody (Caleb Emery), brainy nerd Faraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew) and would-be tough guy Eats (Judah Lewis). When a serial killer anonymously announces that he’s responsible for over a dozen deaths of young boys in the area, Davey becomes convinced that friendly neighbourhood cop Mr Mackey (Rich Sommer) is the culprit, so he and his gang set out to investigate, aided by Davey’s crush, nearly grown-up girl-next-door Nikki (Tiera Skovbye).

The performances are superb across the board. Verchere makes a likeable lead, the group chemistry between the four boys is entirely convincing and the dynamic between Verchere and Skovbye is surprisingly sweet. Similarly, Rich Sommer (Mad Men’s Harry Crane, GLOW’s Mark Eagan) is perfectly cast as Mr Mackey, the small town cop who’s maybe just a little too good to be true. To that end, the script has some fun finding plausible explanations for some of his suspicious behaviour, but the audience is mostly encouraged to root for Davey, even when his friends start to doubt his conviction.

The key themes for the film could have been ripped straight out of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet – Davey’s opening voiceover talks about the dark heart of suburbia, the fact that everyone has secrets and you never really know your neighbours. There’s also a subtle hint of political subversion – it’s surely no coincidence that the front lawn with the Bush / Reagan ’84 sign (espousers of family values) is also the household with the most destructive relationship.

The nostalgia elements are beautifully judged throughout, with the RKSS trio opting for a believable, lived-in approach in the production design rather than going overboard on pop culture references and soundtrack choices. There are also some lovely choices in the direction, most notably the way the gang’s innocent childhood game of “Manhunt” (where they chase each other round the neighbourhood with torches in the dark) is mirrored by an actual manhunt later in the film.

On top of that, Simard and the Whissells orchestrate some gripping suspense sequences, punctuated with moments of humour in the character comedy between the kids. With the script choosing not to reveal its cards until late in the game, the film opts for a slow burn approach before a sudden lurch into real horror in the final reel that’s both effective and chilling, perfectly encapsulating the sudden shift into the adult world experienced by the film’s protagonists.

By turns touching, laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely chilling, Summer of 84 is a nostalgia-inducing treat that confirms the Turbo Kid trio’s passion for perfectly pitched pastiche. That missing apostrophe on “84” is still really annoying though.

**** 4/5

Summer of 84 screened at this years Arrow Video Frightfest on Thursday August 23rd.


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