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Summer of '84 (Sundance Review)

Summer of '84 (Sundance Review)
01.24.2018by: Chris Bumbray
8 10

PLOT: Four friends find their carefree summer interrupted when one of them becomes convinced the nice cop who lives down the street is a serial killer.

REVIEW: SUMMER OF ‘84 is the latest from the RKSS collective, a trio of directors that consists of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissel, the Montreal filmmakers behind TURBO KID. While that was an affectionate homage to eighties junk cinema, specifically the zero-budget MAD MAX clones that plagued video-stores in that era, SUMMER OF 84, by contrast, is a much more straight-laced film. Opting against the grand guignol grind-house format of their last film, here they go for something lower-key, adopting a psuedo Hitchcock vibe, with this owing much to his SHADOW OF A DOUBT or REAR WINDOW, with some eigthies influences present too - including FRIGHT NIGHT.

Much of the film is a slow burn, emphasing the kind of boys’ own adventure aspect, with all four sharing nice cameraderie, specifically lead Graham Verchere, who plays the precocious Davey, and his best pal, Woody, played by Dale Emery. Some attempt is made to flesh out all of the boys, as well as Davey’s love interest, the beautiful babysitter next door (played Tiera Skovbye) by digging into their home lives, although they maybe go too far in this aspect when threads open up that don’t really pay off, particularly towards the climax. Running about 105 minutes, SUMMER OF 84 could stand a modest amount of tightening, with some slow stretches towards the middle, and some of the pop culture dialogue seeming stale, especially if compared to similarly set pieces like “Stranger Things” and the recent IT.

All of this winds up paying off in the unexpected third act, which is a doozy. Some inspired choices have been made, specifically by the directors luring the audience into a sense of false security. For much of the movie, I was shocked by how tame it was, with it seeming like it could even go out with a PG-13, only for the climax to really push some buttons and explore territory I didn’t expect. It’s an inspired wrap up, and it’s the kind that makes everything that came before it seem better in hindsight, making it easy to forgive bits that may seem draggy and dull. It all serves a purpose.

On a technical level, SUMMER OF 84 is comparatively slick to TURBO KID, which itself looked great for a micro budget genre piece. The widescreen lensing is professional, while the tech credits and performances are all up to snuff - with not a weak link among them. This is arguably Rich Sommer’s show, with him playing the cop they think is a killer and he admirably underplays the part, increasing his sense of menace. It’s his best part since “Mad Men”. Special notice also has to be paid to the amazing score by Le Matos, whose score for TURBO KID has already become a classic. This is comparatively lower-key, but it serves the film and bodes well for a long scoring career in the Danny Elfman vein.

While SUMMER OF ‘84 isn’t quite the grindhouse romp one might expect for RKSS, it’s a mature follow-up that suggests the collective is really coming into their own and far from a one-trick pony. There are things about SUMMER OF 84 that will really kick around in your head for awhile after this is done, with parts of it evoking a sense of doom very few filmmakers are able to achieve. This aspect makes any of SUMMER OF 84’s not as successful bits easy to overlook.

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