Stranger Things meets IT in a coming-of-age murder mystery. Summer of ’84 – movie review

My good friend Jimmy (from THE ORIGINAL REEL HORROR GROUP) posted the trailer for Summer of ’84 and I immediately felt compelled to seek this flick out.

Summer of '84 1.jpg
“The Loser Club”… ehm, I mean the kids from Summer of ’84

Don’t let the trailer trick you, though. Marketed as a throwback slasher flick, Summer of 84’ is, in fact, a sort a combination (rip-off, maybe?) between IT and Stranger Things. A basic plot description will clarify this aspect of the movie: after suspecting that their police officer neighbour is a serial killer, a group of kids – which resembles both the Loser Club and the boys from ST – led by Davey (Graham Verchere) spend their summer (of 1984, I guess) to spy on him. As they uncover some unsettling stuff, their game becomes increasingly dangerous.

Despite sounding rather negative in the first paragraph, this movie does a few aspects right. First and foremost, it really nails the 80s vibe and setting: red herrings, fake jump-scares, kids gathering around porn magazines and, mostly, the score. The music, as well as the sound design, are really on spot. They reminded me quite a bit of the early 80s slasher flicks, especially the fantastic The Burning (1981).

Due to the way sound is crafted and inserted in Summer of ’84, most of the scenes in the movie are very pleasant to listen to, even when they’re not interesting per se or the dialogue isn’t exactly compelling.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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Yet, the first 10 minutes consist of a very effective set-up, providing a sort of depraved Stand by Me mood that works. As well, the third act (which takes up the last 25 minutes of Summer of ’84) is very climactic and I’d even say it’s great. The movie subverts clichés and expectations, giving a fresh twist to the overall atmosphere of the film. As the grand finale approaches, this movie becomes more and more dramatic, escalating quickly in its horror factor. Finally, in regards to the ending, the filmmakers had balls: considering this is an A14 (the Canadian equivalent to the American PG-13, I think), there’s some brutality, especially towards a group of people who are supposed to be not older than 13 or 14. These sequences made me go: “wow, well done filmmakers: that was effective!”

Summer of '84 3.jpgHowever, what’s between the first 10 minutes and the final part of the movie, is rather uneventful, formulaic and uninteresting. Let me elaborate. A group of young actors, who seem a bit wooden in front of the camera and whose characters have nothing new nor compelling to them, carry large part of this film.

Simply put, we’ve seen better versions of this in recent times (IT, Stranger Things and even Super Dark Times), therefore banter and interaction, here, appear bland and a bit boring. This is also due to the confusing and tame writing: Summer of ’84 was directed by two people and written by three guys. This is not a good business card for the movie, since a single person, who might or might not be the director as well, should write a script. Five people working on a single project are too many: there are too many heads, concepts and ideas that overlap. Come to think of it, I’m actually surprised Summer of ’84 is not as bad as it could have ended up being.

Summer of '84 2.jpgTo be honest, I do believe this film was intended as a coming-of-age drama (with no horror elements) and was later turned into a horror flick in the editing room. This hypothesis would explain why part of the first and the entirety of the second act are extremely slow and show no sign of horror.

This seems to be a trend lately: more and more movies are intended in a way and, once the people responsible find out the result is a let-down (to put it mildly), are later remarketed and butchered in post-production to make them more marketable and appealing.

In conclusion, Summer of ’84 is really a mixed-bag. There are aspects that can be widely appreciated by fans of coming-of-age flicks and people who like 80s horror/drama movies; this film is nicely shot, has good production values and is never unwatchable (albeit very uneventful at parts). However, it lacks any attempt to make something different, it struggles with tone and direction, and it feels uninspired and toned down by subpar acting.

Summer of ’84                      5.5/10