Three years after debuting cult favorite Turbo Kid at Sundance Film Festival, filmmaking trio RKSS (Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell) returned with their latest feature, Summer of 84, which our own Fred Topel said it “hits the nostalgic sweet spot.” A coming of age thriller that follows a group of teenage friends that spend their summer talking about sex, playing their favorite spy game, and getting into trouble. When group leader Davey (Graham Verchere) suspects his neighbor might be the one responsible for a string of missing children in the area, their spying leads to dangerous consequences.
Unlike their first feature film, RKSS didn’t pen the script for their sophomore effort. When asked how they got involved and chose Summer of 84 as their follow up to Turbo Kid, Yoann-Karl Whissell explains, “Now we have an agent, which is surreal in itself. But we’re doing the tour of meetings, and by a chance meeting we were at a production company, and the person we were supposed to meet had to leave just before the meeting. But we met his assistant at the time and it’s true, in LA, everybody has a script. So, we sat with him and he said, ‘Look, I’m not supposed to say this, but I love Turbo Kid and I have this idea with my partner that I want to write.’ And he started pitching it to us. And we liked the pitch.” Simard adds, “And then he told us the ending and we’re like, ‘Really?’”
Screenwriters Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith completely hooked the trio on the daring boldness of the ending, and RKSS was immediately on board to direct. Simard expands on their feelings for the ending, “We knew it would be different. It would put this movie aside from all the rest. And at that time it was pre-Stranger Things. There was nothing like this in the market, so we work for one year on this movie and then we saw the first poster for Stranger Things. And we’re like, ‘Oh no! You’re kidding me!’” Beyond the ‘80s setting and the core characters of young teen boys, there’s not much else in common between the Netflix series and Summer of 84. Once the trio started watching the first season of the Netflix series, they felt instant relief at how very different the projects were.
At the same time, the success of Stranger Things ultimately determined the trio’s immediate follow up to Turbo Kid, “We have several projects in development. We didn’t plan for our second future to be this one, but it shows that there’s a huge public for that kind of nostalgia and we got the green light like this,” Simard explains as he snaps his fingers then adds, “So in the end, we’re grateful.”
Despite the ‘80s setting and the nostalgia, it tends to induce, RKSS put a lot of thought into the pop culture references. Simard clarifies why they didn’t want their film to be overly-saturated in nostalgia, “You have the obvious Star Wars and Gremlin references in the dialogue, but it was important to us to put the story in front and then the references. It’s subtle. If you pay attention, you might spot some of them, but it’s the story that is important for us.” Anouk Whissell added, “And I think the references are good when they’re used to ground the story in the real life and in a real period. You see it and you know that these kids were really in the ’84.”
With story at the forefront of their minds, there’s a delicate tone between the youthful innocence of Davey and his friends, and the dark direction the story takes. On creating a balance between the light and dark, Yoann-Karl Whissell elaborates, “That’s something we shaped as we went along. That’s what we wanted to do with the story. We wanted to create, especially the way we directed it; we create a false sense of safety. That, ‘Oh, I’ve seen those type of movies. I know where this is going. I’m going to be okay.’ And then you’re not.”
Summer of 84 is a completely different film than their previous effort, a move that was intentional. “We could have went from Turbo Kid 1 to Turbo Kid 2 right away. We didn’t want to do that because we didn’t to then make Turbo Kid 17,” Yoann-Karl Whissell muses. But the team is already deep in the writing process for the highly anticipated sequel, and they don’t take the task lightly. “We’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves for it because we received so much love for the first one, we don’t want to disappoint anybody,” Yoann-Karl shares of the painstaking measures they’re taking to ensure fans will be happy. With Summer of 84 out in theaters, and many projects currently in development, it’s clear we’ll be a seeing a lot more from RKSS in the future. Considering their passion for the genre, that’s a good thing.