François Simard and Anouk Whissell’s 2018 film Summer of 84 is a surprisingly dark tale of American suburbia. The 80s nostalgia factor makes it kind of like a Stranger Things grounded in reality. The story of a kid across the cul-de-sac spying on his neighbor gives the film a suspenseful Rear Window/Disturbia vibe. And the fact that our suspected villain is a police officer is a modern twist on what we expect from authorities we’re told to trust.
In the summer of 1984 fifteen year old Davey (Graham Verchere) lives in a peaceful, quiet suburb. He rides his bike to deliver his paper route and plays Manhunt, a form of flashlight tag, with his friends after dark. Everything seems ideal on his cul-de-sac, until another teenage boy is reported missing. Soon Davey suspects his neighbor is the serial killer behind all the missing boys. He enlists his friends to help him spy and collect evidence against him.
This isn’t just any neighbor, Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer) is a local police officer. He’s lived in the neighborhood long enough to remember Davey as a baby. He’s earned the trust of all the neighbors and community. Still, Davey keeps snooping and finding more and more damning evidence. Will the adults believe Davey or will he become the Cape May Slayer’s next victim?
The story would be nothing without a fun cast of characters. Honestly, Davey and his friends border on cookie cutter but never fall flat. There’s Tommy aka Eats (Judah Lewis) the kid cracking crude jokes, Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) the worry wart, Woody (Caleb Emery) who looks older, bigger and used to drive stakeout cars. And, of course, there’s Nikki (Tiera Skovbye), the girl next door that gets mixed up in the boy’s spying. And we love to hate the creepy Mackey. The film lets you keep guessing for a while, but I knew that guy was a creep when he sat out on his lawn to watch the neighborhood kids play. It’s an unwritten rule that you just don’t do that unless you’re watching your own kids play.
I went into Summer of 84 out of curiosity and because I’m trying to watch more films directed (in this case co-directed) by women. What I found was a solidly creepy piece of mystery, suspense and horror. The scare factor is low for most of the film, relying on jump scares much of the time, but quickly cranks up the intensity toward the end. For a good horror film set in reality that will leave you with the creeps, seek out Summer of 84. (I found it on Kanopy, one of my favorite streaming services, free for most library members!)
“You know you can get AIDS from looking through trash, right?”