Cheaply capitalizing on Stranger Things-like 80s nostalgia, with a teen-driven thriller-mystery that contains almost no thrills and absolutely no mystery and features what is likely the most egregious male-fantasy-bot female character to grace the screen this decade, Summer of 84 is, sadly, a bucket of misdirected lame-sauce. Working from a DOA script from Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith, the acting is just poor, the plot is heavily borrowed (think Rear Window, The Burbs, or Fright Night – except with far less personality) and totally lacking in surprises (telegraphing the answer to its one-dimensional mystery from square one). The characters are nothing but cheap archetypes that we’ve seen frazzle their way through better, smarter versions of this exact same story and watching them onscreen is kind of like your being forced to hang out with uncool kids by your mom.
There’s the fat one (Caleb Emery, whom I swore (incorrectly, it turned out) was Hot Pie from Game of Thrones); the smart one (Cory Gruter-Andrew); the normal one (Graham Verchere); the punk one (Judah Lewis); and the hot girl (Tiera Skovbye). None of them have many IMDB credits to their name and that fact shines through like Danny Torrence in a scary hotel. Summer of 84 is a movie constructed of hacky line delivery and exposition dumps as awkward as one’s early teenage years and the young cast struggle to package any of it up for sale.
It’s a “tell, don’t show” lovers dream with characters backstories ejaculated at the audience in loose, gooey streams. They’ve pretty much all got parent issues at home, save for Verchere’s Davey, who is defined by his belief in wild conspiracy theories and having the mad hots for what should be his unattainable 4-year senior neighbor Nikki (Skovbye). There’s not really a presumption that one visits a movie like Summer of 84 for the acting but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the C-grade performances didn’t work to actively take me out of anything that the film did have working for it.
The larger problem lays in the fact that from the get-go, Summer of 84 backs itself into a corner. The movie begins with Davey’s voiceover narration, alleging that “all the really fucked up stuff happens in the suburbs” (fact check?) And that “every serial killer is someone’s neighbor” (well what about Willy Pickton, who you probably remember lived on a massive pig farm? What about him?!)
There’s some cinema juju to this idea but it’s never capitalized on and the movie – rather than framing this potentially compelling idea in any sort of new light – fingers its potential serial killer, overly friendly cop named Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer – the bodega version of Sam Astin), in the second scene and just kind of runs in circles from there. As murders mount and a serial killer on the loose is confirmed, the neighborhood kids suspect their man Mackey unrelentingly, spying on him, breaking into his house, digging up his garden, to the point where there’s really only one way that events can unfold and, completely unshockingly, that’s exactly what happens.
In a movie filled with bad choices, few stand out more than Nikki (Skovbye) – a character almost certainly written by a prepubescent boy or at least by some kind of drooling-on-the-keyboard incel. This blonde bombshell girl-next-door teases our hero with her sexuality in the most unbelievable of ways, knocking on his front door and busting her way inside when his parents are gone, sneaking in through his bedroom window and almost kissing him. It’s worth noting that prior to the movie beginning, the only relationship they had was she was his babysitter years and years ago. The about-to-leave-for-college 18-year old lingers closer and closer to Davey’s quivering 13-year old lips. She’s only there to eventually be saved so she can dish out that sweet sweet poon tang. In terms of poorly written female characters, she’s one of the most egregious I can think of in recent memory and a dark blight on an otherwise pretty bad movie.
Summer of 84 takes an admittedly dark twist in its final moments but it’s not nearly enough to make one forget about the hour and forty minutes of feet dragging that preceded it nor the sorry performances and disgruntled dialogue we’re victim to along the way. All that directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell (the trio behind kinda-maybe-almost cult film Turbo Kid) manage to do is mimic 80s style (with no shortage of barreling synth tracks) with almost no style of their own to back it up.
CONCLUSION: Rudderless “dark” teen mystery ‘Summer of 84’ lacks originality, scares, mystery, and good acting, hoping its hackneyed throwback nature will override its basic lack of storytelling skill. It doesn’t.