Like most genre fans, I fell head over heels for Turbo Kid, the first feature from the filmmaking trio RKSS (François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell) that transported viewers to a post-apocalyptic future where BMX bikes and friendship rule over the savageness of the brand new world. For their follow-up feature, RKSS heads back to the Reagan Era for their genre-defying Summer of ’84, a murder mystery/slasher/coming-of-age comedy hybrid that confidently explores the triumphs and tribulations of being a teenager, all while delivering a horrifying tale that conjures up some really fun scares along the way.
In the Summer of ’84, we meet 15-year-old Davey (Graham Verchere), who’s obsessed with mysteries and conspiracy theories. He begins to suspect that his neighbor, Officer Mackey (Rich Sommer), might actually be the Cape May Killer, a kidnapper and murderer targeting teenaged boys who live in the idyllic suburban neighborhoods of the area. Davey enlists his best pals Woody (Caleb Emery), Eats (Judah Lewis), and Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) to help him get to the bottom of the killings, but the deeper their investigation goes, the more the boys realize they may be in way over their heads, especially once they uncover the startling truth behind the motivations of the Cape May Killer.
As someone who grew up during the timeframe celebrated in the Summer of ’84, there’s a lot about this film that perfectly hit all my nostalgia buttons, both in terms of my own childhood experiences as well as the movies I watched back then that helped shape me into the film lover I am today. RKSS wears their influences proudly on their sleeves here, with Summer of ’84 evoking the spirit of movies like Stand by Me, The ’Burbs, Silver Bullet (minus the werewolves), and The Goonies, and there are even a few hat tips to the likes of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell thrown in to boot. That being said, the trio never leans too heavily into the familiarity of these films, making Summer of ’84 into something that stands firmly on its own two cinematic feet, especially when the third act kicks in and the script from Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith takes a few ballsy left turns that left me genuinely shocked.
While much of the material early on in Summer of ’84 has something of a lighthearted touch to it, that doesn’t mean the stakes of the story, and Davey’s journey to uncovering the truth, aren’t essential aspects of the film. In fact, RKSS’ latest has quite a few heartbreaking moments to it, and I appreciated the fact that there were real repercussions for the four underage leads in Summer of ’84, enforcing the idea of the loss of innocence and demonstrating that actions always have consequences, regardless of however old you may be. To some, the aftermath of the events in Summer of ’84 may feel like a bit of a downer, but for me, it only steeped this mystery-infused serial killer thriller in a palpable sense of grounded realism, because as many of us can attest, growing up can often be a painful experience that doesn’t work out the way you want it to.
Summer of ’84 is anchored by a quartet of likeable performances from the younger stars, whose shared chemistry is infectious and endearing, especially Verchere’s Davey, a character who feels like if Fox Mulder happened to grow up inside a Stephen King novel. Even though Verchere makes for a compelling anchor for Summer, the two standouts who ended up surprising me were Sommers as the nice guy cop who may or may not have a penchant for killing young men, and Emery, who portrays Davey’s best buddy who is willing to put everything on the line for his pal (and who has also been tasked with keeping a watchful eye on his single mom, who is struggling to keep her life together).
Even though the story does take a bit too long to get things moving, that’s really just me nitpicking at the greatness that is Summer of ’84, as RKSS has demonstrated once again that they excel at tapping into the hardships that accompany that transition into adulthood, and the weight of those responsibilities. RKSS' love of 1980s cinema is unmistakable, and I enjoyed that their second feature gave these three filmmakers a chance to do something that is very different than Turbo Kid, and yet also feels like the perfect companion piece to their debut feature all the same.
Movie Score: 4/5
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