The story is pretty much Goonies meets Rear Window, where a suburban kid and his group of early into puberty/early into teen-ness friends investigate a next door happy-go-lucky cop for being the serial killer currently haunting the area. Davey, the lead snoop, is the more mature of the group, choosing not to talk about girls they know in sex gossip ways and behaving more level-headed in general. Of course, when it comes to this mystery, he's overly determined and fanatical. In Ipswitch, Oregon, there's not much to do for these boys but fawn over models and go bowling. Davey is different, letting his mind wander and go to places he should otherwise not go. Without his sense for the outrageous though, we would not have a movie, and he might never learn a lesson.
Summer of 84 sees Davey as adorable if too curious as well, thinking he should just join others his age in growing up and not dragging his friends into potential danger or, at least, trouble. There are consequences for every action, and they will hit no matter how old you are - no age discrimination in that light. Living in the 80s may be a time some, like in Ready Player One, wish they had grown up in, but the truth - beneath Reagan politics, corporatization and coke bloat - is that looking at something with rose-colored glasses doesn't mean all is so rosy. Remove the filter for the reveal, and you just might lose that happy ending you expected.
Violence doesn't really factor in until late, and when it does, there is a hesitance to show it off completely. We see gore through a VHS (or beta) camera, we see stabbings in the dark and what the camera operator finds, he or she moves away from. Perhaps the filmmakers are expressing the unwillingness to stomach the fruits of labor (theirs and the characters), and perhaps it's a chance to give/not show the audience, expecting nostalgia, the things they weren't wanting to know. It's much to chew on, with a smack in the face finale that forces growth in all of us but may not have been ideal considering the sneaky suspenseful fun had in the hour and a half prior. Since when does a movie have to be "ideal" though? Can't it just be a story?
Last year saw the release of the slightly similar yet dramatically superior Super Dark Times. That was set in the 90s, and dealt much more with shame, responsibility, guilt and becoming an adult all too fast. Summer of 84 holds its cards close to the chest for a long time, only barely letting on to what it's about in a few instances. And what it's about is pulling the rug out from under everyone. It's about the adventure becoming all too real and not being played by kids rules. It's about curiosity killing the cat, figuratively. The movie keeps its mood and feel throughout, but underscores it with stark and harsh wake-up calls. Buzzkills.
Fun in the moment but all too ugly up close in memory. The 80s, am I right? It excelled at that.
RATING: 4 / 5
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Summer of 84 is now playing in New Orleans at Zeitgeist for a one week run.