'Summer Of '84' Review: Nostalgia Runs Out Of Steam In Disappointing Diet 'Stranger Things' [Sundance]

While nostalgia for the 1980s has run rampant for years now, in a post-Stranger Things world, movies looking to capture the spirit of the decade and still deliver some thrills and chills need to try a little bit harder to stand out. With the intriguing plot involving the possibility of a serial killer living next door to a teen boy, Summer of '84 looked like it could be a more mature, bloodier and satisfying piece of genre filmmaking. Unfortunately, it mostly coasts by on nostalgia alone and doesn't bring much of anything new to the table.

Summer of '84 unfolds in the suburbs of Oregon in the titular season and year. Our story begins with paperboy Davey (Graham Verchere) telling us about how the craziest shit always happen in the suburbs. That doesn't sound true, but you have to give him the benefit of the doubt since he's just a teenage boy who has only experienced life in his little neighborhood cul-de-sac. But Davey is about to tell us one messed up but familiar story that happened to him in this unsuspecting suburb.

There's a serial killer in the area being called the Cape May Slayer, believed to be responsible for 13 murders in the region over the past few months, all teenage boys. For some reason, perhaps driven by the imagination that has been fueled by the movies and TV shows of this beloved decade, Davey is super pumped about this. In fact, he already has his prime suspect: the suspiciously friendly, bachelor policeman next door, Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer).

Obsessed with conspiracy theories and tabloid mysteries, this is just the kind of thriller Davey has always wanted to be part of, and he desperately tries to get his friends as excited as he his to crack the case. There's the beefy, lovable Woody (Caleb Emery), the typical sarcastic whiz kid (Cory Gruter-Andrew) and the rough-around-the-edges, leather jacket clad Eats (Judah Lewis). They're a little nonplussed by Davey's excitement since he's latched onto stories like this before, but they're willing to indulge his flights of fancy and help him try to prove that Mr. Mackey is the Cape May Slayer.

*NOTE: For anyone worried about spoilers, even though we don't believe what follows discusses an actual spoiler, don't read any further if you want to go into the movie blind.*summer of 84

If you haven't already realized it, Summer of '84 is most aptly described as Stranger Things meets Rear Window. There are several signs that point to the fact that Mr. Mackey is a serial killer, but at any slight sign of skepticism, everyone except Davey is willing to abandon their suspicions until it's too late. But to the audience, it's undeniably clear that Mr. Mackey will turn out to be a killer, which makes Rich Sommer's innocently menacing performance that much more unnerving. But a far more interesting premise might have seen this movie ending in such a way that Davey was the real villain this whole time, driven to false accusations due to his wild imagination and desire for something cool to happen in his otherwise average life. Unfortunately, that's not where this movie goes.

Instead, Summer of '84 is wholly predictable and if it wasn't for the lively young cast and hypnotizing, perfectly '80s synth soundtrack, it would be downright awful. But perhaps even more frustrating is that it's almost aggressively average and supremely disappointing rather than simply being bad. The movie refuses to go in any interesting directions and is stunted by its slavish loyalty to the nostalgia of the 1980s, right down to a typical dream girl next door played by Tiera Skovbye, who serves no purpose other than being the two-dimensional crush of our main character.

The only spark of true originality in this movie comes in its final moments. Once all hell finally breaks loose and everyone else comes around to the fact that Mr. Mackey is indeed a serial killer, it's the final face-off between our villain and his would-be victim that brings an interesting twist to the killer-victim dynamic. It's not necessarily groundbreaking, but it's infinitely more unsettling than anything else that happens in the movie, and it leaves open the possibility for a much more interesting sequel to play out down the road, perhaps in the summer of 1994 or even 2004.

Due to all its nostalgia, Summer of '84 can't help but fall short of the greatness that has already been reached by the likes of Stranger Things and last year's new adaptation of Stephen King's It. Making this all the more upsetting is all the far more interesting potential paths this film could have taken instead of being one of the most derivative midnight movies in recent memory. Instead, the movie only becomes engaging in its final moments, but by then, it's too little, too late. At the very least, the directing trio of Fran├žois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell (better known as RKSS) show that they have style to spare and know how to craft suspense and thrills. Maybe they can put it to use in a film that is a little more original next time.

Summer of '84 doesn't have a release date yet./Film Rating 6.5 out of 10