The promising Sundance nomination, ‘80s trendy backdrop, group of seemingly endearing protagonist boys and thrilling mystery plot with a dark, frightening villain might portray “Summer of ‘84” as an attractive film for viewers and film enthusiasts alike. Unfortunately, “Summer of ‘84” does not keep its promises. “Summer of ‘84”, directed by Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, is a thriller mystery set in the 1980s. Boys between the age of thirteen and sixteen are being kidnapped and killed in Cape May, Oregon. The police are looking for a middle aged white male. Davey Armstrong, (Graham Verchere) a teenage boy obsessed with conspiracy theories, believes he’s found the killer: His neighbor and town police officer Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer).
The film promises a dangerous adventure as Davey and his three friends look for proof. The serial killer’s victims are teenage boys. Teenage boys are investigating the killer. The killer’s target is targeting the killer. It sounds thrilling. It is not. Somehow the risk never seems great enough. The killer never seems creepy, dangerous or psychotic enough. He resembles a stricter, more annoying and perhaps more violent version of the teacher from “The Breakfast Club.” He is just a respectable, trustworthy individual to adults, that only teenagers and children seem to hate and avoid. The murderer’s motives, modus operandi and signature are never revealed. Davey, the driven investigator, does not seem interested in finding these out. One of the elements that renders almost every crime mystery disturbing is the psyche of the criminal. This film never tackles that.
The Sundance Film Festival is renowned for choosing character-driven films. If not the thrilling, stomach twisting, creepy elements, the film’s characters could have won over critics and viewers. Again, they did not. The film never dives deep into an exploration of the characters’ lives and personalities. Davey’s obsession with conspiracy theories and murders, his drive to investigate, is never truly explained to the audience. How did this passion develop? How does it define our protagonist? These are questions the film never answers. Two of Davey’s friends, Dale “Woody” Woodworth (Caleb Emery) and Tommy “Eats” Eaton (Judah Lewis), have difficult situations at home. The film never explores the boys’ homes and personal troubles. By the end of the film, almost nothing is revealed about them, their parents, their struggles or their lives. It is impossible to get attached. As a consequence, the friendship between the boys loses importance or meaning. The audience desires to see a group of friends who care for one another, support one another, form a team against all odds. The idea is Peter Pan’s lost boys, with Davey as Peter Pan. Interestingly enough, we don’t know a lot about Peter Pan or the lost boys. However, the fairytale, by making them mysterious figures with dark pasts, allows the viewer’s imagination to create legendary background stories. The imagination of the viewers shapes the characters, connects them to a relatable human past. They were orphans, brought by Peter Pan to a better life in Neverland. “Summer of ‘84” manages to drive the viewers to lose interest in the main characters’ past. If the protagonists were not the focus, the villain could have been: Captain Hook instead of Peter Pan. Once more, he was not. The audience never finds out his past. Why is he a serial killer? Why teenage boys? How does he kill them? These are questions the film never answers. If they were answered the film would have had a memorable, fascinating, eerie villain and a disturbing story.
Predictably, the film received a 67% approval rating based on 39 reviews on the site aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 57 out of 100 based on 9 reviews on Metacritic. The directing and the acting, specifically Rich Sommer’s (Mr. Mackey) performance, is quite impressive. However, it does not compensate for the lack of interesting characters and thrilling plot. The audience leaves the theatre without feeling any connection to the protagonists — presumably lovable, charming teenage boys — or fascination for the villain, presumably the quintessential sinister middle aged man. Overall, the film’s various promising elements fail to impact the viewers in any memorable way.
Jacqueline Pantano can be contacted at