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(After its World Premiere earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, Summer of 84 will be released in theaters on August 10, 2018, and available on VOD and Digital HD on August 24, 2018 via Gunpowder & Sky.)

From the French Canadian filmmaking collective RKSS (short for “Roadkill Superstar”) – real names François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell – comes a second feature, Summer of 84, following on the heels of their auspicious 2015 debut, the outrageously silly (and fun in a twisted, sick way) 1980s post-apocalyptic homage Turbo Kid. Here they take a much more sober tone, telling the disturbing story of a serial killer embedded in a quiet suburban community, picking off his victims one by one. Again, it’s the 1980s, allowing the trio to indulge their apparent obsession with the aesthetics of that era, albeit in service of a darker tale. Imagine Blue Velvet meets Disturbia (itself an homage to Rear Window) meets Netflix’s Stranger Things. Yes, it’s derivative, but in a mostly well-constructed, engaging and highly creative way.

The year is 1984, and we are in Ipswich, Oregon, where 15-year-old Davey and his three best friends – “Eats,” “Woody” and Curtis – all live normal lives of horny teenage angst until Davey begins to suspect that his neighbor across the cul-de-sac, Officer Mackey of the local PD, may just be the man responsible for the rash of disappearances of boys their own age. Cajoling his buddies to help him gather evidence, Davey becomes ever more convinced that Mackey is the culprit, though that man’s standing in the community proves a big hurdle to overcome. So does the young men’s own lack of focus and easy distraction by the charms of the hot older gal next door, Davey’s former babysitter, Nikki. Still, little by little they appear to build a case, and it’s only a question of when before Mackey realizes what they’re doing and confronts them. Either way, they’re in for some kind of trouble, because while provoking a cop is ill-advised enough, taunting a homicidal maniac can be deadly.

The actors playing the four boys all shine, Graham Verchere (Office Burgle’s son Nathan in Season 3 of FX’s Fargo) as Davey, and Caleb Emery as Woody (Baby Tyler in Season 1 of NBC’s Good Girls), especially. Tiera Skovbye (One Small Indiscretion), as Nikki, brings real weight to a part that riffs on the typical object of desire from teen sex comedies and slasher pics of the period. It’s Rich Sommer (Harry Crane on AMC’s Mad Men and Mark, Debbie’s soon-to-be-ex, on Netflix’s GLOW) who is the real revelation, however, adding potential menace to his usual soft-featured geniality in his role as Mackey. What problems there are with the film do not lie with the cast, nor with the near-loving recreation of the time, beautifully rendered in perfect detail, with a great Tangerine Dream-like score by Jean-Philippe Bernier – also the cinematographer – and Jean-Nicolas Leupi Le Matos.

Indeed, Simard, Whissell and Whissell do a fine job with this entertaining mix of humor depravity until the final act, when they break the implied covenant of that effortless blend by killing a major character, in gruesome close-up, no less. The act works for shock value, yet feels unnecessarily nasty – as if from a different movie (Turbo Kid, for example, but there we expected it) – given the more benevolent cinematic promise of earlier scenes. Everything up to that point worked, for me. I still recommend the film, but be forewarned that the ending twist may leave a bitter taste in your mouth, as well.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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