In 2015, the filmmaking trio of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (otherwise known as RKSS, aka “Roadkill Superstar”) brought their first feature, Turbo Kid, to the Sundance Film Festival, and over this past week, they celebrated the world premiere of their latest throwback endeavor, Summer of ’84, that screened as part of Sundance's 2018 Midnighters slate.
Being a huge fan of what RKSS has done with both of their feature films thus far, Daily Dead was excited to sit down and chat with the three directors about Summer of ’84. They talked about the harsh truths that accompany the experience of growing up, tapping into an era of filmmaking they love with their own projects, finding their four teenaged heroes for their slasher/mystery/suburban thriller hybrid, and more.
This film was great, you guys. I think what's great about what you guys have been able to do with Turbo Kid and with this film, is that you've found a way to tap into the universality of growing up. For a lot of us who grew up here in the States, we just think of it as an American experience. But what you all have done now on two occasions is proven that these are things we all go through, regardless of what country you live in.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: I think somewhere deep down, we've always stayed kids at heart. Growing up sucks. I truly believe growing up sucks, and I think that especially in Summer of '84, there’s a little bit of a metaphor on growing from the innocence of being a kid to becoming an adult, and how painful it is.
There's something weird about when you finish high school, where they ask you, "What do you want to do for the rest of your life?" When you’re still a teenager. They ask you to choose a path in college, and that is what is going to be your life, the thing that you're going to do for the rest of your life. There's something weird about that. You don't have any experience in life, so it's easy to feel lost.
François Simard: What's funny is that we didn't go to film school, actually.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Yeah.
François Simard: We [Anouk and I] had an animation background, and everything we learned about directing was by making shorts and watching movies.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Yeah, and I studied theater and didn't finish.
François Simard: I think it’s interesting that when you talk about our movie, the story is about kids becoming adults, and for us, we're adults that are just trying to stay kids.
And I think that shows in what you guys do with these films. Now, obviously, this is a very different film for you guys than Turbo Kid. Was that a conscientious decision on your part to do something so different this time around?
François Simard: We wanted to explore new territory and we wanted to try new styles and do a different film.
Anouk Whissell: We're big fans of the genre, so we wanted to try things, and it just so happened that the script that fell into our hands was perfect and it was that time, and we're very happy to just try new things.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: It's the first time we directed something that we didn't write, but it felt right for us. What's amazing about those four boys, is that it's a combo of who we were, growing up in the '80s. We were those kids. Me and Anouk—she's my sister. We had a book of mysteries with all the ghouls, and the character of Davey is obsessed with the Sasquatch, and ghouls and vampires, too. We were obsessed, we were always in that book, and we were even hunting them in our neighborhood.
I had a vampire hunting club when I was a kid, too, thanks to The Lost Boys.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: That’s so cool.
Anouk Whissell: I remember there was this science fair at school, and I did my project on ghosts one year. I got a big, "Congrats, but this is not science", and I was like, "It is science. This is something that has been proven to be real." They didn’t see it that way.
François Simard: But yeah, we didn't want to be the Turbo Kid guys. We didn't want to make Turbo Kid 2 as our second feature because, after that, you do the third one and then the fourth one and then you're just making the same thing again and again.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: When you become the Turbo Kid people, it stops you from exploring.
François Simard: Yeah, that being said though, Turbo Kid is our baby. We'd love to do the sequel at some point if the budget is right and the script is top-notch, but we're very happy that it's Summer of '84 that got the green light, and that it is our second film. We're huge fans of horror, John Carpenter, The ’Burbs, The Goonies—all of those movies we loved when we were kids.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: I used to know all the Friday the 13th movies by heart. All the lines and everything, and this year my wife has seen most of them, but not all of them, so I just said, "We're going from the first one to the reboot. We are watching all of them." Horror movies are such a fun ride.
Well, for me, that's the great thing about your films, is that they sort of defy any genre labels. You just can't throw them into one box. And when you mentioned The ’Burbs, I really got it, because Summer of ’84 felt very much like The ’Burbs meets Silver Bullet in a way. And for as much as there is a lightheartedness to parts of the film, there are a lot of scary moments to this as well. How was it balancing out the fun versus the scares?
Yoann-Karl Whissell: It comes from being a kid and being innocent, to then becoming an adult and realizing that life has consequences, that life gets really real.
Anouk Whissell: Yeah, the four boys are in a very awkward age as well. It's really like they're stuck, and they're still having their adventure, they're having fun, and we wanted to really be close to them and feel the adventure with them, and then see that the consequences can be bad regardless of how old you are.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Yeah, they're at that age where you're not an adult, but you're not a kid anymore. That's why they're obsessed by sex, they start swearing, and they're swearing too much because it's the first time they allow themselves to swear, so they overcompensate [laughs].
François Simard: We had to be careful to not make this feel like two different movies, too. There's the first part of the movie that is all the adventure, and the fun and games, and then we needed to have a slow curve into the horror. We didn't want the movie to suddenly switch, so it's a different movie out of nowhere. But we do go to the very edge of horror.
You mentioned the four boys who, I think, are excellent in this, and I thought they had great chemistry together. Can you talk about finding them, and what it was you saw in them that they would bring to their respective roles?
Yoann-Karl Whissell: The casting process was a very long one. We were very difficult. We wanted kids that we could work with, and that would get us, and that had the depth to be able to do this. And when we found them, they blew us away. Working with them, they're so professional and whenever we were talking about very complex concepts, they would just get it. Some of them are very old souls. If I think about myself at their age, I was not as grounded as they are. They were amazing.
François Simard: It was pretty similar in Turbo Kid, with The Kid and Apple, where we wanted them to be friends for real. And just like you see with the chemistry between those two characters in Turbo Kid, the same thing happened with these four kids in Summer of ’84. They began to be friends in real life, and the first scene we shot was in the tree house, and we saw immediately that there was really good chemistry between them, and that their friendships were believable. We were so happy.
In case you missed it, check here to catch up on our other live coverage of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival!