Summer of 84

Offers nostalgia as the blue pill and horror film as the red pill. You can only digest one.

They say real outdoor fun ended with the 80s kid. Not just in the literal sense, but anything outside the confines of home – hours at the gaming arcade, playing neighborhood watch on bicycles, skipping school to be with a sick buddy, widely made-up conspiracy theories, and an endless list of everything typical of adolescence before the modern internet boom. Summer of 84 begins with a familiar kinship to the 80s, a story of four teenage boys desperate to prove that each is more man than boy. Even their names, Davey, Tommy, Woody, and Curtis seem cut out of the 80s cinema era from The Goonies to Stand by Me to the recent and hugely popular TV series Stranger Things. Throw in synthesized retro music, rebellious hip-hop fashion, a mere mention of Reagan and Bush Sr. and the film starts to conjure nostalgia specific to that period. Easier said than done? The real proof of the pudding is in actually tasting it. And here’s where the film runs into a fundamental problem – a setup so big that it loses sight of the little details that goes into its own foundation.

Taking cues from films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which by itself spawned a generation of suspense driven thrillers from Fright Night to Disturbia, the premise here isn’t new but the crux of the film is in the opening line that “Even serial killers live next door to somebody”. That’s protagonist Davey Armstrong’s theory, amongst several others plastered across his bedroom wall. As the neighborhood newspaper delivery boy, Davey (Graham Verchere) is also privy to tabloid headlines before everyone else. When news of a second teenage boy goes missing, Davey is obsessed with finding the killer. Together with his buddies and armed with walkie-talkies, flashlights and a trusty pair of binoculars, Davey sets out to prove that his neighbor, police officer Mr. Mackey, is the serial killer.

Aesthetically, Summer of 84 will please every adult viewer who grew up in the titular era, and is bound to find something relatable in this film. Be it the music, the pop culture of the time or when opinions were in good faith and not obscured by the so called ‘politically correct’ atmosphere of modern society. But as a thriller, the story is only half as believable. Peppered with holes, the story also has us wired into believing that Davey and his friends have everything figured out, while precious little is done to make us care if they live or die. Then there’s the problem with length. As much as fifty minutes go by before we get the first and forced jump scare. The remaining fifty minutes is when things get interesting, of which the high point is when Mr. Mackey makes a house call. It’s a well-played out scene and perhaps the most chilling moment in the film. Ultimately, the film ends up with a forked conclusion – one is the twist and one is the actual ending. Only one of these is successful in leaving a strong afterthought – and maybe, just maybe, the birth of a new serial killer in horror films.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.