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[Sundance Review] ‘Summer of ’84’ Hits Nostalgia Sweet Spot

[Sundance Review] ‘Summer of ’84’ Hits Nostalgia Sweet Spot

As much as I would have loved to see a scene in Summer of ’84 where 7-year-old Fred Topel sees Gremlins and Ghostbusters three times each, I’m going to have to respect their artistic differences. The film does a great job capturing what 1984 might have been like for some other kids I don’t know. We all love the ‘80s whether we lived through them or wish we did. However, the more filmmakers rely on nostalgia, your mileage may vary. Summer of ‘84 effectively created a creepy tone of paranoid kids before there was internet or cell phones to help them find answers.

Davey (Graham Verchere) thinks his neighbor Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer) is the Cape May Slayer. Davey and his three friends – Eats (Judah Lewis), Woody (Caleb Emery) and Curtis (Corey Gruter-Andrew) – investigate under the guise of one of their normal suburban neighborhood games. Mackey seems to have good humor about it all, but is he just giving them a false sense of security?

The trio of directors (formerly?) known as RKSS create a tone of dread without explicit gore. The kids do all their investigating at night with flashlights. They have more balls than I did in 1984. So most of the movie is in the dark where they can’t be sure what they saw and things may or may not be where they expect.

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This is not a lark. The serial killer element means business. Every interaction they have with Mackey is creepy because he’s playing the upper hand. Is he being friendly or is he really onto them? The tone the directors created is not as crazy and bombastic as their previous Turbo Kid, but Summer of ’84 is equally accomplished in creating a world that feels familiar, yet can still pull the rug out from under viewers who’ve seen everything.

The ‘80s details are judicious enough to paint a picture without going overboard. A Reagan/Bush lawn sign and mullet is really all you need. The kids talk about Ewoks and Gremlins once, but it’s not all they talk about.

Actually, sex is all they talk about. Maybe I just found it quaint because boys in 2018 are full on porno dudes, but the boys’ sex talk seems to come from a place of genuine wonder at the majesty of women. I mean, I still hope they grow out of it but it could be healthy at this age. Davey’s growing crush on Nikki (Tiera Skovbye) leads him to shoot down his friends’ demeaning sex talk. That’s a good moral, however, the commitment to saying you’re doing your friend’s mom will never not make me laugh.

Are Stranger Things fans going to like it? Probably not because it’s not as intense into ‘80s nostalgia. I would even say the ‘80s slasher homage Lost After Dark did more with the popular slasher genre. Still, Summer of ’84 hit the sweet spot for me so I hope it finds an audience. I need someone to talk about it obsessively with.



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