Just the Right Amount of Nostalgia and Dread in New Thriller ‘Summer of ’84’

(L-R) Caleb Emery as Dale “Woody” Woodsworth, Cory Grüter-Andrew as Curtis Farraday, Judah Lewis as Tommy “Eats” Eaton, and Graham Verchere as Davey Armstrong in the thriller “SUMMER OF ’84,” a Gunpowder & Sky release. Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.
(L-R) Caleb Emery as Dale “Woody” Woodsworth, Cory Grüter-Andrew as Curtis Farraday, Judah Lewis as Tommy “Eats” Eaton, and Graham Verchere as Davey Armstrong in the thriller “SUMMER OF ’84,” a Gunpowder & Sky release. Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.

How well do you know your neighbors? If you’re honest, probably not as well as you’d like to think. If you’re my age or older, you probably remember a time when you and your friends roamed your neighborhood streets freely and only came home when the streetlights came on. But that’s not the case now, is it? In the new retro horror thriller Summer of ’84 (opening in theaters August 10th), we see that under the veneer of a quiet and happy community not all neighbors are what they appear to be.

Written by newcomers Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith and directed by RKSS (Turbo Kid), Summer of ’84 follows a group of four friends who come to suspect that their police officer neighbor may just happen to be a serial killer. Are their suspicions nothing more than over active imaginations or are they onto something sinister? Check out the trailer below.

It’s hard to see a movie about a group of teens in the ’80s and not instantly think of Stranger Things or It. And seeing directors RKSS attached whose previous film Turbo Kid (a post-apocalyptic, retro-inspired gore fest) that instantly cemented cult status, I assumed the movie would involve elements of sci-fi or irreverence, but nope, Summer of ’84 is a straight thriller that will suck you in and spit you out. The only thing this movie has in common with Stranger Things is the use of walkie-talkies, and the only thing in common with Stephen King’s It is the fact that not even innocent characters are safe from a gruesome death.

The movie absolutely nails the time period with Cold War tensions, offhand comments about AIDS, and arcades (Polybius spotting!), but the nostalgia isn’t forced as it is in most “Hey, remember this?!” movies lately.  Having grown up in the ’80s and ’90s myself, I was most wistful for a game of “Man Hunt,” (We called it “spotlight” where I grew up) an oh-so-appropriately named game of hide-and-seek played at night with flashlights that the teens play in what feels like a safe neighborhood. Everything in this movie comes off as authentic, especially its stars Graham Verchere, Caleb Emery, Judah Lewis, and Cory Gruter-Andrew. The is he/isn’t he killer in question is played by Rich Sommer (Mad Men), who is phenomenal in his performance and should be a household name after his star turn in this and the upcoming A Crooked Somebody.

Rich Sommer as Wayne Mackey in the thriller “SUMMER OF ’84,” a Gunpowder & Sky release. Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.
Rich Sommer as Wayne Mackey in the thriller “SUMMER OF ’84,” a Gunpowder & Sky release. Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.

The killer next door genre has been explored before with movies like Apt Pupil and even the comedy classic The ‘Burbs (who I swear has a loving nod in this flick), but there’s just something to the idea of “every serial killer is somebody’s neighbor” that just keeps us coming back for more. In Summer of ’84, following the breadcrumbs is intriguing, but unfortunately the either/or mentality only leads down one path instead of taking audiences down twists and turns.

Like I mentioned before, with RKSS directing, I kept looking for a unique twist to take this movie to an unconventional end, but instead we were taken to a brutal finale that didn’t feel entirely earned. Additionally there are some relationships that are explored to fill out the characters, but not to their fullest extent and leave you wanting more. That said, the cast in ’84 are great and the movie has just the right amount of dread throughout. There’s not a whole lot of blood, but what’s there is definitely in your face. While the Summer of ’84 could be so much more, what we get is still great and totally worth your money. So go check out Summer of ’84 in theaters starting August 10th, but just make sure your doors are locked when you do. Oh, and maybe get to know your neighbors a little better too.

GeekDad Ranking: 7.5 out of 10 stars
Rated: NR (But essentially R)
Run time: 105 minutes

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital screener for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

Get the Official GeekDad Books!