STRANGER THINGS, SUPER DARK TIMES, STEPHEN KING’S IT: the new wave of ‘80sploitation has certainly fostered some gems. These films rarely focus on capturing the youthful feelings of teenagers, but rather attempt to capture the feel of the movies that filmgoers of a certain age grew up on. SUMMER OF ’84 settles squarely into that formula, following a crew of teenage friends on bicycles who believe that their neighbor may be an infamous serial killer in the dog days of 1984. The syth score from Le Matos cribs from Tangerine Dream and Giorgio Moroder and there are STAR WARS conversations abound. Unfortunately, SUMMER OF ’84 never finds its footing. Instead, the film gets lost in trying to recapture that Spielbergian sense of youth, never really becoming fun enough or dark enough, or even real enough despite a pitch black, unearned climax.
The pack of teenagers at hand features a collection of caricatures inspired by everything from THE GATE to THE GOONIES: the sensitive leader, the know-it-all nerd, the heavy-set kid, and the vulgar punk rocker. They hang out at the local arcade, tool around the neigborhood on their bicycles, and drool over skin magazines (undoubtedly unearthed in a forest preserve, like all the important pornography of a boy’s youth)in their hideout. Their conversations are refreshingly gross: the boys talk about sex and girls in an uneducated, way that feels real, if not politically correct. The gang chatter away on their walkie talkies, making plans for the summer (although anyone who grew up in the ‘80s knows that any commercially available walkie talkies never really worked that well, and it’d be nice for a film to acknowledge that some day). Arguably, that’s where SUMMER OF ’84 misses the mark. The film feels like a collection of nostalgic nods to films past, but it never adds up into anything cohesive, tense, scary, or at the very least fun.
The film could have explored at the malaise that sinks in throughout the summer-particuarly those dog days towards the end of vacation when kids start getting in to trouble and the adults in the neighborhood are ready for everyone to get back to school. If the film had focused on that August boredom that can inspired bad behavior in teenagers, SUMMER OF ’84 could have become a teenage take on Joe Dante’s THE ‘BURBS, putting a lens on suburban monatany and xenophobia. The filmmakers certainly have it in them to get dark an nasty, but they just let the story middle for most of the run time. As soon as Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer), the suspected neighbor shows up with a brilliantly quiet sense of menace about him, there’s no mystery, no red herring, he’s obviously the villain.
Along the way, lead kid Davey Armstrong (Graham Verche) reunites with the girl next door Nikki Kaszuba (Tiera Skovbye) who used to babysit him. I had a hard time understanding what her character’s purpose was: was she a love interest (there’s no real chemistry), or maybe a red herring (or even the real killer). As it stands, she’s just kind of wasted. Looking at this group of guys, it may have been more realistic not to feature a ladyfriend at all (that certainly was the case in my teenage years) or at the very least introduce her friends to join the boys on their adventure.
SUMMER OF ‘84 is dissapointing because of its potential. It could have been a nasty answer to the cutesy nostalgia of STRANGER THINGS or even a bonkers commentary on the boredom of suburban life. As it stands, it meanders for most of its run time and by the time the film goes somewhere interesting, it’s already too late. SUMMER OF ‘84 needs to go back to school.