Summer of ’84 has been on my watch list for quite some time, and I’m happy to report that this little Canadian film did not disappoint. A blend of the coming of age and loss of innocence tale that made Stand By Me so engaging, a healthy dose of nostalgia a la Stranger Things, and a dash of story borrowed from Rear Window, this is an unexpected film that delivers for slasher fans.
Summer of ’84 follows a quartet of friends, 15 years old, in the town of Cape May one summer. A serial killer, presumably bored and escalating, has written a letter to the local police announcing his presence and confessing to the murder of thirteen teenage boys. The neighbourhood is shaken; things like this don’t happen here in this idyllic little suburb.
One night while playing a game of ‘Manhunt,’ our protagonist, Davey, sees something through his neighbour’s kitchen window while hiding in the bushes. He notices a boy that he doesn’t recognize talking to his neighbour, a man that he has known since he was a baby. When he later sees that boy on a milk carton in his fridge, he begins to spy and soon discovers that he might be living right next door to the killer. The neighbour, Mackey, is also a respected police officer, leading many to laugh away Davey’s story.
What I loved about Summer of ’84 was that it could have very easily become very slasher focused, or have a solely true crime vibe. But what made the story tense was the feeling that something was lurking right below the surface, just waiting to pounce. The kids are beginning to notice girls, sharing porn magazines, but then running outside to play games with flashlights and walkie talkies. Davey is a conspiracy nut, fervently believing that people will lie to him at every turn. Divorce of neighbours and friends is discussed in hushed whispers, as if something might be catching. And a serial killer is loose in a neighbourhood that has never seen anything bad happen. Times are changing, and fear is the monster that is waiting to devour this little suburban street.
A storm is brewing, and Summer of ’84 is smart to capitalize on the tension that this causes. The outcomes of these issues seem to be far away threats to Davey, but they are threats that he can sense are creeping closer and closer. Focusing on his neighbour being the killer almost seems to ground him, to give him an outlet and letting him push these encroaching fears into the background.
Many of the scenes in this film are predictable, but that doesn’t make them less powerful. What sets this film apart is the scene in which Davey has a final showdown with the killer. What transpires between them is haunting and different than a typical slasher. It is simple, just a few simple words that the killer gives. It is the kind of speech that you know that a survivor will internalize for their entire lives, and to hear the killer say it out loud really got to me, especially considering Davey’s age. It is an age where he is starting to think about living his own life, and being free of childhood, and all of that is stripped away in one instant.
Summer of ’84 is a nostalgic look at innocence lost, growing up, and living on that frustrating precipice where you are no longer a child but not quite and adult. Perfect for slasher fans looking for something moody and atmospheric.