Sundance Review: SUMMER OF ’84 Pushes ‘80s Nostalgia To The Breaking Point

Oh boy.

Some people don’t like IT. Others are annoyed by Stranger Things. But we should all come together to dislike Summer of ’84, which makes even the most egregious ‘80s pandering from the former properties look like American Graffiti.

Directed by Turbo Kid’s trio - Anouk Whissell, Fraçois Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell - Summer of ’84 is a very try-hard endeavor that simply fails to work. The story revolves around four buddies on a summer break that happens to coincide with a string of child murders by a killer still at large. One of these kids gets the bright idea that the friendly cop across the street (Rich Sommer) is probably the killer. He convinces his buddies to help him snoop around the cop’s place to prove it. Meanwhile, his ex-babysitter flirts with him a lot, which I guess is supposed to be cute.

Here’s the deal: the kids all suck. They aren’t performed well, but it doesn’t matter because all their dialogue is ridiculous. While it’s true that young boys talk about sex a lot, it’s ALL these kids discuss. It’s arbitrary, seems needy and gets tiring almost immediately. The kids are all distinguishable in broad terms (main kid, nerdy kid, bad kid, overweight kid), but they are equally bland.

Their mission to expose this cop takes the form of many different adventures that bring them closer and closer to danger. But they rarely act like they’re in a hurry, despite limited time. Meanwhile, the safeguards in place to warn them of danger are usually subverted in convoluted ways. The story's filled with giant plot holes so immediately apparent that there’s no chance to get invested in their success or tense about any possible failure. It’s a movie that treats viewers like idiots.

The ‘80s references are about as obvious and unnatural as you might expect. The kids argue about Ewoks, Gremlins, etc. in ways that make you want to roll your eyes and remember how well Stranger Things did this stuff by comparison, which is not a compliment. They live in a suburban cul de sac, ride bikes and play some kind of weird version of Hide & Seek, but the Amblin magic they are trying to recreate from projects that tried to recreate Amblin magic is nowhere to be found. There’s no charm here, and none of this feels like anyone’s real childhood, even their nostalgic fantasy childhood.

I will end with something nice though: the film does wrap up with a dark ending most probably won’t expect, which deserves a little respect. One of the oddest things about Summer of ’84 is that it feels specifically made for children, but the violence and language automatically bar them from watching.