Sundance Film Review: ‘Summer of ’84’

Four teens suspect a neighbor is a notorious murderer in this diverting but mild homage to ’80s VHS genre throwaways.

Director:
Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
With:
Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer, Jason Gray-Stanford, Shauna Johannesen.

1 hour 46 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5774450/reference

The 1980s VHS nostalgia bandwagon trundles on with “Summer of ’84,” a retro thriller in which four suburban teens snoop around a neighbor they think might be a serial killer — amateur detective work that seems “fun” until, of course, it becomes downright dangerous.

This second feature for the Montreal-based directorial trio billed as RKSS (Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell) is a nice homage to the “Goonies” era of juvenile genre cinema. But in contrast to their prior, like minded sci-fi “Turbo Kid,” it’s more slowly paced than necessary, and those seeking horror content will find the payoff underwhelming after a protracted, mild buildup. This Canadian-U.S. co-production is likely to go straight to today’s equivalents of the video-store back shelves.

Introduced biking around his innocuous cul-de-sac on a paper route, Davey (Graham Verchere) sees his bland personal universe as potentially fraught with hidden intrigue. His best buds — plus-sized softie Woody (Caleb Emery), bespectacled brainiac Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew) and quasi-punk psuedo-delinquent Eats (Judah Lewis) — are willing to indulge his lurid imagination to an extent. But they, like his parents, are also inclined to dismiss Davey’s more paranoid fixations as the spawn of too much “Hardy Boys” and “National Enquirer” reading.

Nonetheless, they reluctantly go along with his insistence that the affable bachelor across the street, policeman Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer), might be the elusive Cape May Slayer who’s claimed responsibility for 13 murders in a region where numerous teenage boys have gone missing within recent months. The more the boys spy on this neighbor, the more suspicious his actions seem. But of course grown-ups, including Davey’s dad (Jason Gray-Stanford) and mom (Shauna Johannesen) scoff at mere kids accusing this friendly police officer of any fiendish deeds. One nearly grown-up ally is Nikki (Tiera Skovbye), Davey’s former babysitter and everyone’s crush object.

All this is good as far as it goes. But ultimately it doesn’t go very far, particularly for a film that’s almost half an hour longer than most of the direct-to-video B movies it evokes. The leisurely progress isn’t justified by any well-developed subplots, or by much suspense — there’s never a doubt who the perp is, and apart from a couple of false-flag jump scares, little real peril surfaces until quite late. The climactic action is OK, yet the film feels like it needed an additional twist or two to be memorable, while the overall boys’-own-adventure tone is too lightweight to support a grimly serious fadeout.

Performances are solid, especially those by Sommer and Skovbye. There’s neat if not quite witty attention paid to period specifics of suburban life and genre aesthetics, the most notable contributor being Le Matos’ uber-’80s synth score.

It’s not clear if co-scenarists Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith intended their tale to be played for satire, straight suspense, or a mixture of both. But as executed by the RKSS trio, “Summer of ’84” is only cute and competent enough to be diverting; it’s neither funny nor scary enough to leave a lasting impression.

Sundance Film Review: 'Summer of ’84'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Jan. 23, 2018. (In Sundance Film Festival — Midnight.) Running time: 106 MIN.

Production: (Canada-U.S.) A Gunpowder & Sky presentation in association with Brightlight Pictures of an RKSS production. (International sales: Gunpowder & Sky, Los Angeles.) Producers: Shawn Williamson, Jameson Parker, Matt Leslie, Van Toffler, Cody Zwieg. Executive producer, Floris Bauer. Co-producer, Michael Flavin.

Crew: Directors: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell. Screenplay: Matt Leslie, Stephen J. Smith. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Jean-Philippe Bernier. Editor: Austin Andrews. Music: Le Matos.

With: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer, Jason Gray-Stanford, Shauna Johannesen.

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