“Summer of ‘84” is a movie that’s not so much nostalgic about the 1980s as nostalgic for ‘80s movies. Mixing coming-of-age comedy and horror, the film plays like a mash-up of “Stand By Me,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” and 10 other movies rented on VHS from your neighborhood video store back in the day.
The Montreal filmmaking collective of directors Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, who call themselves Roadkill Superstar (RKSS for short), come by their love of Reagan-era movies honestly. Their debut film, “Turbo Kid,” mashed up “Mad Max” post-apocalyptic action and “Rad” teen BMX movies together for delightfully weird results.
“Summer of ‘84” isn’t as successful, because it’s so obviously a pastiche of other movies without a deep feel for what made any of them tick. It also doesn’t help that there’s been a wave of ‘80s nostalgia, like “Stranger Things,” “IT,” and the “San Junipero” episode of “Black Mirror”, that have already done this sort of homage better.
Davey (Graham Verchere) is a typical suburban 15-year-old kid, spending the summer hanging out with his friends. They’re a collection of teenage stereotypes, including bad-boy Eats (Judah Lewis), computer nerd Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) and overweight Woody (Caleb Emery). They hang out in the basement talking about all the sex they wish they were having, or run around the neighborhood at night playing a hide-and-seek game called “Manhunt.”
Bored, Davey becomes fascinated with newspaper stories about a rash of teenage boys who have gone missing in the area over the last few years, all supposedly victims of the Cape May Slayer. Davey fixates on one of his neighbors, a quiet cop named Mackey (Rich Sommer of “Mad Men”). Mackey goes on a lot of late-night jogs, and buys an awful lot of dirt and fertilizer. When Davey sees a teenage boy through the window in Mackey’s house, and later sees the boy’s photo on a milk carton, he becomes convinced that Mackey is the Cape May Slayer.
Much of “Summer of ‘84” plays like a Hardy Boys mystery, as Davey and his friends watch Mackey, looking for clues as to whether he’s the killer or not, employing ‘80s technology like microfiche readers and G.I. Joe walkie-talkies in their investigation. Sommer plays Mackey with perfect ambiguity, so we can’t tell if there’s something sinister about him, or he’s just a nice misunderstood guy with a few odd habits.
Horror film fans will likely get a little restless, as “Summer of ‘84” offers few scares or even much suspense for much of its 105-minute running time. But the more serious shortcoming is that these kids just aren’t that interesting. The screenplay by Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith doesn’t make the boys or their friendship particularly compelling, opting for a barrage of ‘80s references.
The film takes a truly dark turn in the last 20 minutes that, for me, it hasn’t really earned, and seems there to shock the audience out of its complacency. “Summer of ‘84” tries to be three or four genres at once when it should have concentrated on getting one genre right.