With 80’s nostalgia very much ‘in’ at the moment, it’s perhaps easy to presume some filmmakers have jumped on the bandwagon; looking to ride the coattails of success It and Stranger Things have enjoyed. That certainly seems to be the case for some who have reviewed the film badly on the basis that it’s trying too much to be Stranger Things. But believe me, Summer of 84 is more than capable of standing on its own two feet.
“Even serial killers live next door to someone.” contemplates Davey whilst biking through his ‘safe’ suburban neighbourhood; desperate for something “...exciting…” to happen. The problem is Davey is a bit of a conspiracy theorist; once insisting on the presence of a demonic entity in his bedroom as it had been built on ancient Indian burial grounds. And so when he begins to observe ‘suspicious’ behaviour in his next-door neighbour, Wayne Mackey – a local and very popular police officer – no-one really takes him too seriously. Even his friends, Tommy, Dale, and Curtis, only seem to go along with it all, so they have something to do during the summer. But as Davey’s obsession over his neighbour’s supposedly unsavoury activities grows, he finds himself on a very slippery slope.
A gifted cast of child actors underlies this suburban-based coming-of-age horror film; taking inspiration from The Goonies and Stand by Me in the presentation of its central group.
Graham Verchere is our lead and typically bored suburbanite, Davey, and Judah Lewis puts on an entertaining performance as the tougher, more potty-mouthed member of the group, Tommy (Eats), who seems to spend as little time a possible in his deeply dysfunctional home: Caleb Emery and Cory Gruter-Andrew complete the group, starring as Dale (Woody) and Curtis respectively.
And with this being an 1980s retro film there also has to be a love interest for our lead: Tiera Skovbye fills that role as Nikki, the girl-next-door, who makes a very welcome, if slightly forced appearance during the second act; becoming the only female member of the gang.
The performances are good across the board but fall short of ever being great: this isn't helped by a fairly weak script; lacking that naturalistic flair which is so important in films like this. This is more noticeable during the dialogue between the boys and doesn't seem to have had any consequences on Rich Sommer's performance as Wayne Mackey, which is always spot-on.
Visually, however, the film is pitch perfect, and, along with the excellent soundtrack, really captures that feeling of 1980s nostalgia.
Summer of 84 is a dark and twisted parody of your typical 80’s coming-of-age flick; playing out like The 'Burbs during the first two-thirds of the film, then taking a grisly turn down a very dark path during the final act. And whilst it never reaches the same height as some of its influences – suffering from script issues which negatively affect the boy's group dynamic – it's still a fun and engaging trip down memory lane that you're not likely to forget anytime soon.