Taken on their own, the last 15-20 minutes of Summer of 84—the latest from RKSS, the Canadian filmmaking collective behind Turbo Kid—work reasonably well. They would have worked even better if the film had done a single thing in the previous 80 minutes to earn the climax. It feels like they started with the end, but had no idea how to get there.
What’s frustrating about Summer of 84 is that there’s potential, potential that goes woefully unrealized. The plot revolves around four friends—the conspiracy theorist, Davey (Graham Verchere); Tommy (Judah Lewis), the punk; Woody (Caleb Emery), the fat one; and Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew), the smart one, sort of, or at least the nerd. When Davey becomes convinced their neighbor, the too-good-to-be-true hero cop Mackey (Rich Sommer), is a serial killer, they team investigates.
It’s a generic set up, and there’s never any question or mystery to where the narrative is headed. And the script makes the easiest, least interesting choice at every turn, eschewing character, development, and depth in favor of cheap ‘80s pop culture references and adolescent boys talking about boobs. It mistakes nostalgia for substance and does everything wrong that a show like Stranger Things or a movie like It gets right. There’s no other reason for the era than for name dropping and an overplayed, omnipresent synth score.
We get glimpses of potentially intriguing threads. Tommy has a crappy home life and there are hints of trouble, or something, with his older brother. Woody’s mom battles with alcoholism. Nikki (Tiera Skovbye), the hot girl next door—because of course there’s a hot girl next door for Davey to lust after—has to deal with divorcing parents. But none of these receive more than passing mention.
It’s a missed opportunity to add texture and nuance to characters who are nothing more than one-note clichés and the flattest, blandest tropes possible. This could have driven home the idea that there are real monsters, real evil, real horrors for these kids to contend with, whether or not the Mackey threat is real. To frame the neighbor a literal murderer is the emptiest, most effortless decision.
Summer of 84 feels like watching an idea and nothing more. There are these kids, maybe their neighbor is a serial killer, they have find out, and we have this cool ending. It’s like an outline no one ever went back to flesh out; a basic, paint-by-numbers plot without a whit or whiff of mystery or suspense. It’s a unsatisfying, hollow, and frankly dull attempt at nostalgic throwback horror that lacks any authenticity, earnestness, or energy. [Grade: C-/D+]