Summer of 84 is a charming effort that unfortunately arrives a little too late to the Atari Age nostalgia party.
Coming courtesy of the three-person Montreal-based filmmaking team RKSS (Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell), Summer of 84 is a charming, achingly earnest genre film that unfortunately arrives just a little too late to capitalise on the trend of 80s nostalgia ushered in by Stranger Things and the smash-hit remake of Stephen King’s It.
This, if you ask me, is a shame, because I found Summer of 84 to have a lot of appeal, even beyond the era’s fanboy crowd. It’s funny when it needs to be and pretty effective in how it unravels its mystery, and even though it’s far from perfect and has a lot of obstacles to surmount that it occasionally isn’t able to, I rather enjoyed it and I suspect other people will too.
The hero is Graham Verchere as Davey Armstrong, a conspiracy theorist suburban paperboy who suspects, as I think we all do, that the well-appointed homes of the middle class hide disturbing secrets. With the arrival in Oregon of a serial killer whom the press has dubbed the “Cape May Strangler”, and who has been murdering boys Davey’s age in neighbouring towns, he believes he has hit the jackpot – not just a local nutjob, but one that he suspects lives across the street.
The presumed offender is Officer Mackey (Rich Sommer), a cheery bachelor who has been a family friend for years. But he has a locked room in his basement and photographs of family members he never sees all over his walls; this is evidence enough for Davey to recruit his quintessentially 80’s buddies – the fat one, the geek one, and the leather-clad lothario who believes himself to be above it all – to investigate.
Summer of 84 relies on the interplay between these characters, as they trail Mackey on pushbikes, root through his bins and dig up his backyard, to enliven the fairly standard premise. And it works. They rib each other over CB radios, torment Davey about his crush on the local hottie (Tiera Skovbye), declare the whole plan a mistake whenever they turn up empty-handed, and immediately regroup and get back to work when they stumble on a clue that suggests they’re onto something. The grown-ups won’t listen so the kids are on a mission – it’s hardly new territory, but it’s delivered cleverly and with obvious enthusiasm.
Your mileage will vary based on how likeable you find the kids and your fondness for the era, but I was into it and I wasn’t born until 1990, so take that for what it’s worth. There’s undeniably an air of familiarity to Summer of 84, and the occasional instance of clumsiness in the plotting and characterisation, but it’s always watchable and almost always enjoyable. That’s more than I can say for most.