A joint directorial effort between François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, Summer of 84 is a somewhat disappointing entry into the hallowed halls of nostalgia, following in the footsteps of Andy Muschietti’s IT update and Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Formulaic, it has all of the familiar tropes in place: bike rides to an eighties synth soundtrack (Stranger Things, The Goonies), the treehouse (The Monster Squad, Stand By Me, The Sandlot), the girl next door type (Explorers) and the loss of innocence brought on by an adventure, unbeknownst to the adults who are simply oblivious, and sometimes outright neglectful. It has these components but lacks the essential heart that elevates the aforementioned films – films that make you nostalgic for a past you didn’t even experience. Watching these films, regardless of age or gender, they make you feel the magic of adolescence and yearn again for the summer of youth.
Like a darker version of The Burbs, Summer of 84 rehashes the familiar conceit that the monster could be living right next door – the glossy veneer of the suburbs masking something more sinister behind white picket fences and closed doors. Mad Men’s Rich Sommer perfects his smarm as Wayne Mackay, the creepy next door neighbour to Davey (Graham Verchere) and his motley crew of friends. In typical fashion, Davey must convince the others – away from spying on girls and looking at porno magazines – that Mackay is behind the slew of children appearing missing on milk cartons.
However, the characters – stereotypes we have come to love in these films – are nothing more than that. The ‘girl next door’ Nikki (Tiera Skovbye) is granted a flimsy back story that isn’t explored at all, in comparison to Tommy (Judah Lewis), Dale (Caleb Emery) or Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew), all of whom are shown to come from broken homes or have to deal with their parents issues – such as alcoholism. She exists solely as Davey’s adolescent fantasy, a perpetually cheerful hot blonde type that of course, grants all of her romantic attention on Davey, despite having been his babysitter.
As the gang break into Mackay’s house, the tension amps up, and delivers in twisting our expectations. What emerges is a second half that is surprisingly gory – going down avenues that is more akin to Stephen King’s version of IT than any of the film adaptations. The film is saved by its depressing ending, in how literally innocence can be taken from you, friendships vanishing overnight. Underneath the sex jokes and nostalgic window dressing, Summer of 84 is about the loss of innocence, yet if only it had this loss feel more poignant.