D: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell / 105m
Cast: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer, Jason Gray-Stanford, Shauna Johannesen
For fifteen year old Davey Armstrong (Verchere), life is full of mysteries, conspiracies and unexplained phenomena. Living in the small town of Cape May, not much really happens until the police announce that a serial killer has made his presence known in the area by (anonymously) admitting to being responsible for a number of children having gone missing over the past decade. When Davey sees a teenage boy in the home of his neighbour, police officer Wayne Mackey (Sommer), and that same boy is later reported as missing, Davey enlists the help of his best friends – Eats (Lewis), Woody (Emery), and Curtis (Gruter-Andrew) – in proving that Mackey is the so-called Cape May Slayer. They set about gathering evidence, but most of it is circumstantial, until Davey finds the missing boy’s bloodstained sweater in Mackey’s garden shed. He presents his “evidence” to his parents who are horrified by the boys’ behaviour, and make the four apologise to Mackey for what they believe is unwarranted harrassment. Mackey is understanding of what they’ve done, and even though a suspect is arrested soon after, Davey still can’t shake the idea that Mackey is really the Cape May Slayer…
A mystery thriller where the main mystery is why it was set in 1984 in the first place, Summer of 84 takes a generic, well established storyline and makes it very obvious whether or not Mackey is the killer – and it does so very early on. With the material played out slowly, if not entirely assuredly, the movie takes a while to get into its stride, but it’s aided by good performances from its young cast – even if they’re playing established stereotypes – and a deliberately creepy turn from Sommer as Mackey. What hinders the movie most is the sense of familiarity that it engenders, from that first sighting by Davey of a boy in Mackey’s house, to the policeman’s highly suspicious purchasing of digging tools and hundreds of pounds of dirt. These are tried and tested (and trusted) story developments, seen dozens if not hundreds of times before, and it’s this stretch of the movie that takes too long to play out. We already know if Mackey is the killer or not, so having to go through said story developments seems redundant, even though it’s expected.
Thankfully, Leslie and Smith have a surprise up their combined sleeves, and it comes in the form of the movie’s final twenty minutes, where the material takes a sharp left (or wrong) turn into full-on horror territory, and where the fate of Davey and his friends is thrown into real doubt. This is the point where the movie drops out of generic storytelling mode, and into something completely unexpected. It’s a shame that the rest of the movie couldn’t have been as bold in its approach, but it does mean that the movie ends in a way that compensates for much of what’s gone before. Making their second feature together, the trio of Simard and the Whissell siblings display a fondness for the period, but aside from a handful of clumsy and/or forced references, and the generic nature of the material, this could have been presented as modern day and it wouldn’t have made any difference. There’s an unlikely sub-plot involving Davey and an older ex-babysitter, Nikki (Skovbye), that aims to provide depth but lacks credibility, while some of the motivations of Davey and his friends rely more on the needs of the script than any believable tendencies. There’s a decent enough story in here somewhere, and it’s entertaining for the most part, but that final twenty minutes aside, it won’t linger in the memory.
Rating: 6/10 – good performances, and a Tangerine Dream-style soundtrack by Le Matos, help prop up a less than compelling storyline, leaving Summer of 84 feeling hard done by by its own creators; watchable, certainly, but one to approach with reservations, or with an eye to holding out for better things towards the end.