' ' Cinema Romantico: Summer of 84

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Summer of 84

“Summer of 84” is nothing if not an expository title. You know exactly where you are as the movie begins. And yet, you also don’t, and you never quite come to know either. The movie, as the opening voiceover spoken by fifteen year old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere) suggests, might well yearn to show us suburbia and then drill down to discover what lurks just beneath the suburban facade of Ipswich, Oregon when a serial killer terrorizes the town. Alas, we never really see suburbia, not even in the clubhouse Davey shares with his three pals where the directorial triumvirate of Anouk Whissell, François Simard, and Yoann-Karl Whissell forgoes establishing shots to just lock into the four boys’ faces. “Summer of 84” kicks up a few echoes of “The Goonies”, but the latter employed its wide-open Astoria, Oregon locations to bring home the action-adventure and allowed us time in the big old house the kids sought to save. Ipswitch is just a stage.

That might be fine if “Summer of 84” wanted to be a grimy, schlocky, straight-to-video-ish horror movie seeking to proffer killing after killing after killing. But it doesn’t. It takes its time. It wants to swim around in summer break’s languor, or it claims it wants to swim around in summer break’s languor. Indeed, The Cop Next Door Who Turns Out To Be The Killer (Rich Sommer), which is not a spoiler since a shot midway through where he hands out soda to the neighborhood kids so obviously positions him as the bad guy ahead of time it diffuses all theoretical suspense, says as much. Alas, even as “Summer of 84” unspools its story slowly, all its individual moments feel rushed, snuffing any sense of languor. When The Girl Next Door, Nikki (Tiera Skovbye), turns up in Davey’s bedroom and then escapes out the window, Davey falls back on his bed, as if in reverie, but the camera stays where it is, distant, refusing to revel in that reverie.

If anything, much of “Summer of 84” is an ode to the cacophony and vulgarity of boys. Much of the gang’s R-rated banter might make you cringe even as it provides an honest window into the terrifying mind of teenage boys. Topicality be damned, if you wanna know why America just went through what it went through, listen to these kids twist pop culture references into bad lewd jokes. And if you wanna know why our nation just went through what it went through, Nikki is never anything more than a boy’s fantasy come to life, emblemized in how she just mystically appears at Davey’s house and invites herself in. It only underlines what’s wrong in the first place. In fairness, at least, her character’s underwritten symptoms extend to the boys too. Little glimpses are provided of home life and who they are, but are not enough to lift them up into well-rounded people. The closest any character comes is faux-rebel Tommy (Judah Lewis), which is less about the writing than a moment in which Lewis virtually trembles with some mixture of fear and rage in the presence of his cruel older brother.

Davey, meanwhile, is written as a conspiracy theorist, with all sorts of National Enquirer-ish headlines tacked to his bedroom wall. Why, exactly, he is prone to conspiracies, the movie never really says; he just is. And this wounds the languor of summer too. Rather than finding his way into conspiracies from believing his next-door neighbor is the killer, he is just predisposed too, his worldview already having taken shape. And that worldview is never challenged. Rather than any of this being a reaction to the world around him, like it was in “E.T.” with Elliot’s parents’ divorce, his worldview is already shaped, and every single thing that happens is merely a fulfillment of it, brought home in the predictability of how the serial killer plot plays out.

That, in the end, is the real issue. Nothing else much matters in a would-be horror movie if it can, you know, horrify you. But “Summer of 84” mostly doesn’t, less horror, really, than a kind of youthful procedural involving horrifying things. Only the conclusion, not to revealed, raises some genuine terror, particularly in dangling it as an open end rather than adding an exclamation point. That open end, more than anything else in the whole movie, gets across the feeling a kid in the 80s might have had when finding the face of a missing kid staring back at him/her from the side of a milk carton.

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