Phil and I both checked out this movie last night, so we decided to a combined review. His & Hers type of deal. We have very different perspectives, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to read both!

Sophie’s Take

One of the most exciting films to be featured in Fantasia 2015 was Turbo Kid. A post-apocalyptic gore film that seemed regurgitated from the 80s. It was awesome, and it had Michael Ironside, and everyone was cheering. So when I heard the same film company, RKSS, was releasing another feature length film this year, I was psyched.

After watching the trailer, I was expecting a glorious throw back in the nostalgia of the 80s. The life as a teen type of nostalgia, not the pop culture references kind. Sure there were a couple of head nods, but they made sense in the contexts and was clearly not a sponsored insert. Overall, I got exactly what I wanted. It was perfect. Keep in mind that I watch these film from an emotional point of view, rather than technical. For the most part anyways. So here’s a bit of a breakdown, spoiler free of course.

The cast was fantastic. You have a core group of mismatched pals, played by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell. Wait, hang on lol no no. Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Cory Gruter and Caleb Emery. But essentially, yes, they nailed those tropes perfectly. These kids were just great. Their chemistry made total sense, and I swear, I knew them all when I was growing up. What made it extra special to me though was the way they filmed it. The whole thing seemed emotional to me, and I’ll explain how.

The lead, Davey, is the perspective you are meant to have when viewing the environment. At least I think so. The way they line up the shots, with the lighting and score (which was great as well btw) made you feel what Davey felt as he rode his bike down the street. Oh there’s the nice house, there’s one he doesn’t care about, and there’s one that’s kinda creepy for no reason. Just through that, I was immersed in their world.

They did everything right with me when it came to building suspense. They put me in that nostalgic state, and then hit me with my own childhood fears. “Every serial killer is somebody’s neighbour”. Davey is a bit of a conspiracy theorist, and begins to suspect that his neighbour Mr Mackey could in fact be a local serial killer. Mackey, played by Rich Sommer, is a nicey-nice police officer with the friendliest face you could imagine.

Just look at that face. He’s adorable! Rich fucking delivers. The suspense built around his character was palpable, and I was reduced into the little girl I once was, when she was afraid of going in the basement alone because monsters. I won’t reveal anything about the conclusion of the film of course, but I find it made it stand apart from the rest of the ones I have seen in it’s genre. I think my only disappointment was the girl, featured as the required young love interest. I mean sure, it was very 80s in that respect, but she added nothing to the plot as a person, serving only as a point of elevation for Davey.

 

 

Phil’s Take

Teenage Joseph Gordon-Levitt look-alike, Davey, suspects his police officer neighbor, Mr. Mackey, to be a serial killer. Since this is an unabashed 80’s genre homage, Davey has his gang of inseparable friends consisting of character tropes. There is the borderline-J.D., the Nerdy Kid, and the Fat Kid. Also, there’s The Girl, whose sole purpose is to be a possible love interest. Davey effortlessly convinces his friends to help him investigate Mr. Mackey to prove he’s the killer.

Anybody who’s seen the trailer already knows the basic premise, and can easily see that this is essentially a love letter to the filmmaking era that the story is set. This is a set-up that we’ve seen before, but it’s the film’s “raison d’être” to be a tribute. On that level it highly succeeds. The filmmakers’ knowledge of the genre is evident and they do a great job of not just playing with the conventions but doing it earnestly so that the movie doesn’t play solely as an imitation but an effective thriller in its own right. Though at times it does come close to being a parody veering into Edgar Wright-esque territory, it eventually manages to shift its tone so that the events become genuinely serious, and the characters, actual people.

The acting from the four lead kids is terrific. As is Rich Sommer as Mr. Mackey, who even though is the suspected antagonist from almost the very beginning, comes across as believably likeable throughout. The one character that ends up being the least engaging and even believable is the aforementioned Girl. Though in keeping with the conventions of the genre (and era), it’s somewhat fitting that her role be exactly what it is and nothing more. The initial scene of Davey and The Girl’s budding sort-of romance is so stereo-typically contrived and unbelievable that I was sure it was going to be revealed to be a dream sequence. But no, it turns out to be just that type of 80’s wish-fulfillment type of scenario. Like I said though: it’s fitting for what the film is aiming to be.

For most of the running time, there is nothing really original at play here, but there is still an obvious joy from the filmmakers to make this a fun ride, and the pacing is fast and effective from the get-go. I was actually pleasantly surprised that the third act managed to deliver in an unexpected way considering the rest of the film is essentially déjà-vu, albeit well-made and engaging. And also surprising is how much the characters end up being ultimately endearing. Quite the achievement if you ask me, considering they are all essentially written as archetypes.

Ultimately, Summer of ’84 succeeds in what it tries to achieve. I’ll even say that it manages to out-do another recent film in the sub-genre of group-of-kids-in-the-80’s-that-must-fight-evil-in-their-town: It. It may not be original by design, but it has heart and personality.

***

This film was sold out, and I know of several people who were sad to miss out. Thankfully, it will be screened again on August 3rd and 4th at Cinéma du Parc, complete with a Q&A after the film!

 

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