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RKSS films, the people who brought you “Turbo Kid,” are back with another slice of 80’s nostalgia in “Summer of 84”. Given the sea of 80’s inspired TV shows and movies that have come out in recent years, this might be seen by some viewers as a bad thing. Also given this is a Coming-of-Age thriller there will be inevitable comparisons to “Stranger Things” even although the plot is entirely different.
The central story focuses on Davey (Graham Verchere), a conspiracy-obsessed teen who starts to suspect that his next-door neighbour Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer) is a serial killer. His friend’s Dale (Caleb Emery), Tommy (Judah Lewis) and Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) are initially sceptical about Davey’s theories but eventually decide to go along. The group’s investigation takes up the bulk of the movie.
As a horror, it is a slow burn affair which focuses more on creating a foreboding atmosphere rather than gory thrills. Also while some may guess early whether or not the next door neighbour is indeed a serial killer the filmmakers do well to keep the mystery going throughout the film.
There is much to admire here as the period detail is excellent and it is clear to see the filmmaker’s genuine love of all things 1980’s. There is no sense that this is cynical bandwagon jumping. It is also clear that they wanted to make their own story within the 80’s style and not just be a mere pastiche of the movies they are paying tribute too, such as Amblin films. Some of the classic 80’s elements really work too, from an entertaining investigation montage scene to the synth-heavy soundtrack.
Not everything works so well though. As while the central character of Davey is likable and compelling, the rest of the gang seem both annoying and underwritten. Particularly Tommy who is that archetypal obnoxious loudmouth character whose behaviour is excused by the fact that he has terrible parents and an even more obnoxious brother in what seems like lazy writing. Talking of lazy writing the only female character of note, Nikki (Tiera Skovbye), is risibly underwritten cool dream girl who only real purpose is to be pined after, and become a quasi-love interest, for our lead. However, Skovbye does her best to give the character some spark.
Some lazy writing aside there is much to enjoy here, and the film cranks into gear in the final stretch paying off all the tension that was expertly built up throughout the film.
Believe or not this latest addition to the “Halloween” franchise, the 11th entry, is brought to us by the same people who brought us “Pineapple Express” in David Gordon Green (director/co-writer) and Danny McBride (co-writer). A combination we know can do comedy but what about horror? It turns out they do know their horror or at least “Halloween” as this movie is a fitting tribute to the original while managing to do its own thing for the most part.
It fits too that in a franchise with an incredibly convoluted history that this film adds to that confusion by ignoring all previous sequels and being a direct follow up to the original. So in this timeline, Michael Myers was arrested after the events of the original and has been in a secure asylum for 40 years. We first see Michael as two investigative journalists go to visit him. It is a very evocative opening scene as we see Michael chained up in a chessboard style courtyard with his back turned to us. The camera teases glimpses of his face but never shows his full face giving him an even more sinister air.
The investigative journalist’s angle is good as it gives us the audience a very easy to catch up on what has been happening in Haddonfield over the last 40 years particularly with Laurie Strode (Lee Curtis). It turns out she has two failed marriages, had her daughter taken off her and is now living as a hermit in a fortified house, seemingly waiting for Michaels return. In this opening section, we also get to see the strained relationship she has with her daughter Karen (Greer) and her better relationship with granddaughter Allyson (Matichak). The relationship between these three generations of Strode women forms the emotional core of the movie.
After this opening section, Michael inevitably escapes after a botched prison transfer and starts killing once again. Once the killing begins the film very much goes into traditional slasher territory. This element is one of the things that is likely to delight some while frustrating others as the movie feels like a slasher that could have been made in the pre-“Scream” era. As for the most part events are played with a straight bat, and there is little in the way of snarkiness or post-modernism here which may come as a surprise giving the creative talents involved. However, for the most part, this works well, but it does mean there are a bunch of characters who either you don’t care about or are actively happy to see bumped off by Michael.
As mentioned at the start of the review there are many nods to the original. While sometimes this seems a tad forced there are some instances of this that work well. Particularly the scenes that invert the original and highlight the oddly symbiotic relationship between Michael and Laurie. The other big nod to the original is that we have John Carpenter back doing the soundtrack the first time he has done a “Halloween” soundtrack since 1981’s “Halloween II.”
While there may be some skewy plot logic, annoying characters and some silly moments this latest “Halloween” does deliver some brutal kills, develops the relationship of Strode women well and has an absolutely barnstorming performance from Jamie Lee Curtis.