Going into Frightfest 2018, I was beyond excited to see the new film from French Canadian director trio, RKSS – Road Kill Super Stars – Individually known as François Simard, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell. The team was behind one of my favourite films of 2015, the phenomenal Turbo Kid. I won’t say that Summer of ’84, their follow up, is a bad film. For me, it just felt a little bit like they were losing their voice amid the studio system.
Summer of ’84 tells the story of four kids in your quintessential small American town, cycling around on bikes trying to solve mysteries. Think the “Hardy Boys” meets “Stranger Things” with a dolloping of “Rear Window” thrown in there for good measure. The leader of the group, Davey, is convinced that the cop that lives across the street from him is an infamous serial killer, but has absolutely no proof.
Davey enlists his friends, Curtis, Tommy and Dale to help in exposing the (suspected) child murderer, Officer Mackey – played with incredible charisma by the beyond talented Rich Sommer, who you may recognise as one of the FBI agents from the latest season of Orange is the New Black.
It works well as an examination of adults scepticism of kids, kids perception of adults and the dynamic and trust issues between the two. Where the film fell down for me was in its clumsy handling of the third act, which felt like ticking a bunch of boxes to suit the studio. I don’t want to give any spoilers away here so it’s hard to get into my reasoning, but I will say, if the film had ended in a certain scene where a ladder dropped into frame I would have been content. What came after felt shoehorned in and executed poorly – which I feel doesn’t necessarily reflect on the directors, but on the script.
The film is accomplished from a directorial standpoint. It’s as clear here as in Turbo Kid that the trio of directors have a sense of style, but my fear here is that the substance isn’t quite on par with the style here. Equally, I have some issues with the cast. Individually, they are all fantastic but together something about their chemistry feels off – particularly, the relationship between Davey and his babysitter – which just seems a little seedy.
Summer of ’84 works best as a rumination on the idea of the killer next door – the friendly guy who smiles at you in the morning but murders teens at night. This is not a particularly new conceit though and while the “Rear Window through the eyes of a child” angle feels somewhat fresh, the buildup and overall climax left me wanting less… not more. In saying all of that, Summer of ’84 is a very solid movie and worth a watch if you enjoy coming of age movies or even serial killer movies.
If anything Summer of ’84 just gets me excited to see what RKSS do next…
Follow the film at https://www.facebook.com/summerof84movie/