The film “Summer of 84” centers on four teenage boys; their ostensible leader is Davey (Graham Verchere). He is an aspiring film director, who is seemingly obsessed with conspiracy theories, and secret government cover-ups involving the existence of extraterrestrial beings. Davey’s friends, who gather regularly in his tree-house, are as follows: Tommy ‘Eats’ Eaton (Judah Lewis), a foul-mouthed, female obsessed teen from a dysfunctional family; the kind-hearted Woody (Caleb Emery) who is shown tending to the well-being of his alcoholic mother (Susie Castillo); and, lastly, there is the bookish Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew). In addition, sometimes joining Davey and his friends, is Davey’s crush, who happens to also be his former babysitter, Nikki, played by Tiera Skovbye (Riverdale).
Davey’s latest interest involves a serial killer, The Cape May Slayer. The killer has claimed responsibility, in a letter sent to the police, for the deaths of fifteen boys, as well as two adults. The police confirm through the names the Cape May Slayer has provided them in his letter, as well as the dates he references, that the letter is real. Davey hears about the killer’s confession on the local news and is thrilled that, for once, there is some excitement in what he considers his sleepy, suburban town of Ipswich, Oregon.
While on his paper-route, collecting money, Davey has a relatively innocuous encounter with his neighbor, Wayne Mackey. He is a divorced police officer, portrayed by Rich Sommer (GLOW). Davey suspects that Officer Mackey is the killer; information which he eagerly shares with his friends. Davey has arrived at his conclusion with little to no evidence, other than his own remembrance of thinking he spotted a missing boy, Dusty Dewitt (Riley Jacob), through the window of Mackey’s house, while playing a game of Manhunt with his friends one evening. Davey becomes alarmed after seeing a missing person profile for Dusty along with his picture on the back of a milk carton.
Davey’s friends find his suspicions hard to swallow. After all, Mackey is the type of guy, who is shown to the viewer, handing out ice pops to the local kids on a hot-summer’s day. Furthermore, they are cognizant of how much Davey yearns for real adventure, but nevertheless, it being the summertime, they decide to help him get to the bottom of things. The boys begin surveillance of Mackey, taking notes on his daily routine, which for the most part, seems very normal, however, as they continue to investigate him, they discover a few of his habits that stand out. He takes nightly jogs beginning at 11:00 and is normally gone for well over an hour before returning home. Additionally, every weekend, he purchases large amounts of dirt from the local hardware store, more than the average person would need, and the flowerbed in his yard doesn’t look that wonderful considering he supposedly gardens on a regular basis.
A good portion of the film concerns itself with the question: Is Mackey or isn’t Mackey the Cape May Killer? Hampering the teens investigation, is when Davey’s mother, Sheila (Shauna Johannesen), and his father, Randall (Jason Gray-Stanford), learn about what the friends have been up to. They are appalled by their son’s behavior. Randall makes Davey and his friends accompany him to Mackey’s house, in order to have them apologize. If Mackey isn’t the killer, then the teens owe him an apology for some of the things they have done. For example, they go through his trash looking for clues, and scatter it on his driveway, to make it look like raccoons did it. If Mackey is indeed the killer, Randall has just tipped a cunning murderer off, putting Davey and his friends’ lives in serious danger.
Who is the Cape May Slayer? Is Mackey really the killer? Does the circumstantial evidence the teens believe point to Mackey’s guilt turn out to be harmless coincidences? Could the killer be someone else the boys know, but would never suspect? If it does turn out to be Mackey, can he be caught before he strikes again? When the film concludes, all of those questions will be answered.
“Summer of 84” premiered on January 22, 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was directed by the trio of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, who co-wrote and directed “Turbo Kid.” Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith, wrote the screenplay for “Summer of 84,” marking their screen writing debut. The film is a combination of the genres of drama – horror – mystery, and thriller. The score composed by Jean-Philippe Bernier, Jean-Nicolas Leupi, and Le Matos, synchs up well with what is transpiring on screen.
“Summer of 84” doesn’t break any new cinematic ground. The nostalgia for the time period is evident, but kudos to the filmmakers for not cramming in every possible pop-culture reference they could during the film’s 105 minute runtime. One of my issues with the film is the aforementioned runtime; it could have been well served by editing out at least fifteen minutes. There were certain scenes that didn’t advance the story. The third act, however, helps to rebound the film from some of the tedium that takes place during some of the scenes in the second act.
Before watching “Summer of 84,” I had heard and read people making comparisons to it and the Netflix series, “Stranger Things,” numerous times. I personally didn’t see the parallels for a number of reasons. Yes, in “Stranger Things” there are four male friends, and in the “Summer of 84” there are the same number of friends. Yes, both take place during the 1980s, but that, for me, is where the comparisons should end. For instance, Nikki is a character that unlike Eleven in “Stranger Things,“ has no special abilities, and is not a vital part of the film, whereas Eleven is exceptionally vital to the Netflix series. Furthermore, there are no alternative dimensions, secret government cover-ups, or super natural monsters in the film. The only monster showcased in “Summer of 84” is the realistic kind, that of the Cape May Slayer, whose type of killer unfortunately, as much as we would all like it to be otherwise, is not relegated to fiction.