Tales From Park City: Summer of '84 Makes A Splash At Sundance
As I sat nestled in my seat at the Library Center Theatre in Park City, Utah, just before midnight on Monday, January 22, the energy was electric as the room full of fellow horror fans buzzed with excitement and anticipation for the world premiere of Summer of ‘84, the latest film by the directorial trio known as the “Roadkill Superstars” (Turbo Kid, 2015). The three directors, Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell, and François Simard were all nerves and excitement as they stood in front of the packed 486-seat theatre to introduce their latest film. I shared in their excitement not only for the film, but I couldn’t believe I was actually at SUNDANCE, about to see a film from my favorite genre in a room packed full of other genre fans like myself. After a brief introduction from the team known as RKSS, the lights went down and the theatre exploded with applause as the film began and we were whisked away to the bygone days of the 1980s.
The film follows four teenage boys growing up in a quaint suburban town during - you guessed it - the summer of 1984. Davey (Graham Verchere, Fargo - tv series), Eats (Judah Lewis, The Babysitter), Woody (Caleb Emery, Disjointed), and Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew, The 100) are spending their summer just like any other group of pubescent boys did in the 80s (disclaimer: at least that’s what I assume from what movies have taught me, I wasn’t actually there); playing night time neighborhood-wide games of “manhunt”, hanging out in their tree house, and fantasizing about girls, specifically the girl next door, Nikki Kaszuba (Tiera Skovbye, Riverdale). Seems like the perfect summer break for a group of young boys, right? One might think so, but Davey Armstrong longs for something more, something exciting to hit his sleepy suburban hometown. When Davey isn’t spending time with his friends, he’s got his nose deep in a Hardy Boys book or is busy reading about the latest conspiracy theory in an issue of National Inquirer, all the while wishing for his very own Hardy Boys style adventure. Davey soon gets his wish when the local news broadcasts a story about a serial killer known as the “Cape May Slayer” who has anonymously admitted to 13 murders in the area, most of his victims being teenage boys. Instead of reacting with fear or exercising extra caution like Davey’s parents suggest, Davey dives head first into trying to solve the crime. When Davey picks up a few clues that vaguely point in the direction of a neighborly policeman, Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer, Mad Men), he does everything he can to convince his friends, his parents, even the girl next door, Nikki, that Officer Mackey isn’t just a bachelor living alone, but a psychotic serial killer who kidnaps and murders teenage boys.
The first half of the film is pure, nostalgic fun. The cast of young actors have incredible onscreen chemistry and pretty great comedic timing as they banter back and forth about which girls they’d like to … you know … and toss around 80s style “your mom” jokes. When Davey first shares his idea that Officer Mackey may be the Cape May Slayer, his friends are skeptical to say the least, but after some convincing, they agree to join him in a full blown investigation and eventually Nikki joins forces with them as well. What starts out as some harmless sneaking around the neighborhood soon turns into a dangerous blame game that holds consequences whether Davey’s suspicions are right or wrong. In the final act of the film, SHIT. GETS. REAL. The film starts by sucking you into what seems like a Spielberg-style adventure, but doesn’t pull any punches when it arrives at its dark as hell, chilling finale that evoked the same unease in me that I felt when I saw last year’s Super Dark Times.
While the young ensemble knocked it out of the park with their honest performances, Rich Sommer also deserves some high praise for his impeccable work as Wayne Mackey. He’s so charming that you can’t help but be drawn to him with his sweet smile and friendly heir of honesty and innocence, but is that all a facade to hide the true monster he really is? Throughout the entirety of the film, he toes the line between a somewhat normal, but mysterious bachelor and a potential psychotic serial killer, but he is ultimately innocent until proven guilty and it’s up to Davey and his friends to uncover the truth about Mackey and hopefully live to tell the tale of the Summer of ‘84.
The more I think about the film, the more I love it and am anxious to see it again after its eventual release. It is such a great addition to the “kids on bikes” subgenre of 1980s nostalgia films and packs a punch when it comes to delivering some genuinely horrific scenes and some well-earned jump scares. Although the film does not yet have a release date, I truly am rooting for it to reach a wide audience because it’s a genre film that I think everyone could enjoy, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the minute we hear of its inevitable release, we at Ghastly Grinning will be sure to let you know.
For more information on Summer of ‘84, please visit:
Can’t wait for the film? View the teaser trailer here.