Last night, I was witness to the debut of the long awaited film, Summer of ‘84, to a local Montreal crowd and a sold out theater during the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival. The atmosphere was electric! When Directors Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell, and Francois Simard hit the stage, you could feel the anticipation of the crowd bubbling to the surface. The crowd was ready, and finally got to see what they have been eagerly waiting for.
Official Synopsis of Summer of ‘84
After a serial killer is found to be picking off kids from a run of the mill suburban town, a group of teenagers suspect their neighbour, a mild mannered yet slightly too friendly police officer. The teenagers spend their summer spying on him, trying to gather enough evidence so their parents will believe them. The further they dig, the more dangerous their mission becomes.
Summer of ’84 was a film I was looking forward to seeing as soon as I saw the trailer. It takes place in a post-Stranger Things world where films like IT, The Babysitter, and Better Watch Out were bringing back the love of stories centering on young teenagers in an almost parentless universe, pulling the viewers into their narratives and essentially making them a part of their group. Summer of ’84 felt like a beautiful mix of The Burbs meets Stand By Me. It is a film set in the eighties (which, nowadays, can be the kiss of death with fans, due to the recent oversaturation of nostalgia in the genre), but Summer of ’84 smartly uses the time period as a set dressing and not as a main character, as so many films before it mistakenly have done. The ’80s theme is subtle and seamless in this picture. It isn’t crammed down your throat while screaming, “I’m your childhood!” as so many others have done in the past.
The casting is spot on in this film. Graham Verchere, who plays Davey, is a perfect selection for his role as the never sure conspiracy theorist who just can’t leave well enough alone. We get a bit of Hitchcock’s Rear Window mixed with Fright Night in his ever vigilant and paranoid need to monitor his neighbour’s every move.
Judah Lewis channels a mix of River Phoenix and Corey Feldman in his role as Tommy, the tough yet smart-alecky kid with an abusive home life. Corey Gruter-Andrew’s character is the brainy yet grounded Farraday, whose look was undeniably inspired by that of a young Jeffrey Dahmer, and Caleb Emery stole our hearts as the lovable Woody. Rounding out the cast was Rich Sommer as the iconic Officer Mackey. From the moment I saw him, I couldn’t imagine any other actor more perfect suited for this role. His smile could make you feel safe and in danger all at the same time.
That’s what all these characters had from the moment you met them on screen… they make you feel. So many films these days never get that right. If you can identify with, and believe the characters you are looking at on screen are real then you are free lose yourself in the story and are automatically along for the ride. These characters made that happen and then some.
The production value and dialogue were Spielbergian in essence, it always felt like an homage and never an outright copy. The film really came across as its own thing. As a critic, I have to be impartial, as painful as it can be, but the weakest part of the plot would have to be the love interest, Nikki Kaszuba, played by the immensely talented Tiera Skovebye. Her character felt shoehorned in at times. I felt like she could have been used a bit more, and maybe should have fully joined the group in the last act. This is only a minor gripe though.
The ending of the film is the epitome of the term, “flipping the script.” It takes a dark turn that would never be allowed in a big budget Hollywood film. This is yet another reason to go out and see Summer of ’84. You actually get to enjoy the story that the creators of this film wanted you to see, and that in itself is a rare thing in cinema today. I was lucky enough to speak with the filmmakers after the screening, and ask the question that immediately popped into my head while watching it. “Was there a test audience?” The answer was, No, and thank God for that! The ending you are treated to allows the film viewer the chance to really digest the story and charcters in a way that another ending wouldn’t necessarily provoke you to do.
Summer of ’84 was the film I was waiting to see for a long time. It had the look and the feel I wanted, but with the subtlety that we all demand from this type of story. Making a film like this can be a dangerous undertaking for filmmakers, because they are touching on the subject of nostalgia which means they are riding the razor’s edge of upsetting their core demographic if they get it wrong at any instant. Francois, Anouk, and Yoann danced that razor’s edge and came out on top. If Turbo Kid put them on the map, Summer of ’84 solidified them as a powerhouse team to be reckoned with in the industry. I can’t wait to see what’s next from this truly gifted team. RKSS Films is here to stay, folks!