If 'Stranger Things' Was Grittier and Slower, it'd be 'Summer of '84,' Opening Saturday at the Capitol Theatre


  • Courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky

When the Canadian film collective known as RKSS first came into public consciousness, it was with their ABC's Of Death competition short film, "T is for Turbo." The super gory and simultaneously extremely cute Mad Max meets Rad throwback became a quick fan favorite, and was developed into the contemporary cult classic, Turbo Kid.

Nostalgia throwbacks work very well for RKSS, and they have an excellent grasp on how to breathe new life into a long-dead decade. Their next venture, a kids-solving-their-neighborhood-murder flick Summer of '84 backed against synthwave music and an abundance of pop-culture references is exactly the type of film RKSS can make successfully.

The only problem is that Stranger Things and the new adaptation of Stephen King's 'IT' exist. Part of what made Turbo Kid such a smashing success was that it was a nostalgia throwback before we became overrun with films and television shows of the same nature. For RKSS, their sophomore venture is secure in their wheelhouse, but it's difficult to watch this film and not view it as more nostalgia bait.

Summer of '84 is a retro-thriller about suburban kids investigating their neighbor, whom they believe is a serial killer. It's very Goonies, it's very Monster Squad, and good-god, it's so Stranger Things it hurts. Every moment feels like a love letter to the forgotten VHS tapes we never had the chance to rent before the video stores closed their doors, but it reads like a love letter that we've read time and time before.

On the positive side, Summer of '84 is much darker and grittier than Stranger Things and IT, given the fact it's based in reality. This isn't a scary clown or a government agency giving people special powers, these are real kids tinkering around with a real serial killer.

The identity of the murderer can be predicted pretty early on, so the film plays less like a "whodunit" and more of a "how do we prove this?" Unfortunately, because of that, the legitimate reveal doesn't have much of an impact because audiences already figured it out an hour earlier.

Summer of '84's also suffers from slow pacing and unnecessary endings. The film is way too long for the story its telling, running nearly a full thirty minutes longer than the iconic films they're trying to invoke. False endings are littered throughout which may have read well on paper, but in execution causes the film to drag.

Luckily, Summer of '84 is saved by incredible production design, a killer score, gorgeous cinematography and authentic performances from child actors. Fight me on it if you must, but the kids in this film are absolutely dynamite performers, and handle the less-than-stellar dialogue better than the Stranger Things kids who are reciting lines from the minds of an entire staff.

Ultimately, Summer of '84 is a perfectly acceptable gritty reboot of Stranger Things and fans of nostalgia bait flicks are going to absolutely eat this up. If you can endure the unnecessarily long run-time and clunky dialogue, it's a charming throwback sprinkled with brutality.

Summer of '84 is playing as part of the Cinema Late Shift series at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday, August 18 at 11:59 p.m. and Tuesday August 21 at 7:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, click here.

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