Color, 2018, 105 mins. 37 secs.
Directed by RKSS ( Fran├žois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell)
Starring Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer, Jason Gray-Stanford, Shauna Johannsen
Gunpowder & Sky (UHD, Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 4K/HD/NTSC), Pandastorm (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)


Often lumped in with the Summer of 84wave of '80s teen nostalgia projects like Super 8, Stranger Things, and the 2017 take on Stephen King's It, the Summer of 84Canadian horror-suspense hybrid Summer of 84 is a vicious little poison pill tucked away in what seems like a spin on the killer neighbor formula a la Rear Window and Disturbia. Made by the film collective RKSS, this second project after the well-received Turbo Kid brings back regular synthwave composer Le Matos (delivering another great electronic score here) for a film that really sticks in your memory, largely through its very unorthodox and haunting final act. Despite the title, the '80s angle is very downplayed here (no needle drops every two minutes) and seems to be justified mainly as a way to avoid dealing with cell phones, which would've otherwise turned this into a brief short film at best.

During the titular summer of 1984, newspaper boy and aspiring filmmaker Davey Armstrong (Verchere) works his route in a quiet suburban town in coastal Oregon where everyone is silently on edge due to a string of disappearances of young boys in the area for the past few years. Davey begins to Summer of 84suspect that his wholesome and well-respected cop neighbor, Wayne Mackey (Mad Men's Sommer), could be the perpetrator and begins spying on him with binoculars. At first his attempts to convince friends Dale (Emery), Curtis (Gruter-Andrew), and Eats (Lewis) fall on deaf ears, Summer of 84but they soon come around when a boy seen entering Mackey's house ends up as a missing person on a milk carton. Soon Davey's crush, Nikki (Skovbye), becomes involved in the mystery as well, with walkie talkes, flashlights, and reconnaissance missions used to gather evidence to the continued disbelief of any adults around them. However, Davey has no idea how much danger is really involved until it might be too late.

Given a minor theatrical release before its quick online premiere on Shudder, Summer of 84 wasn't treated very well in the U.S. at first with only halfhearted BD-R and DVD-R editions available at first from distributor Gunpowder & Sky. At least that release featured two audio commentaries with the trio of directors (one in English, the other in French), covering the production in detail from the jettisoned original opening sequence through the casting process and shooting as well as the realistic look they wanted to take to the beginning of the "stranger danger" mindset. Also included are a short gallery (1m22s) and a fun blooper reel (4m22s). That move seemed odd given the positive reception the film received, even if its straddling between genres makes it a little bit of a tough sell since it definitely isn't for kids but only goes into full-on horror mode in the last half hour or so. The young stars all do a good job of selling their camaraderie without Summer of 84going overboard into mugging, echoing just enough of the '80s classic team teen movies to work and not recall any film in particular. It's also a stylish film with some of the darkest lighting in recent memory; red lighting is used to potent effect in a handful of Summer of 84key scenes, and apparently all of the families here are trying to save energy with the lowest wattage light bulbs possible. As mentioned above though, it's really the ending that makes the film when the filmmakers suddenly bare their teeth and leave the viewer hanging on a deeply unsettling note unlike anything else out there.

A more generous edition also appeared just after the 2018 U.S. ones on German Blu-ray and DVD (already a better option since it was pressed discs), featuring the English commentary and blooper reel as well as the fun Grindhouse-style fake trailer short Demonitron: The 6th Dimension (4m29s), a quick 28s filmmaker intro, and two trailers. However, the one to beat is the UHD and Blu-ray combo from Gunpowder & Sky distributed as a sister label to Vinegar Syndrome through OCN Distribution. The UHD looks fantastic with HDR giving it a richer look that really adds to the ominous feel of the film; those dark shadows and saturated reds really benefit the most here, and the film's dark look fares nicely with a moody, overcast veneer. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 English audio is as good as it's always been, mostly giving support to the score throughout. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided. Ported over here are the English filmmaker commentary, Demonitron, and the blooper reel, but you also get a greatly expanded behind-the-scenes gallery (5m8s) and a lengthy batch of cartoon-style storyboards (6m57s). Two new featurettes have also been commissioned starting with "Love Letter to the 80s" (8m45s) with cinematographer-composer Jean-Philippe Bernier and composer Jean-Nicolas Leupi enthusiastically talking about the origins of Le Matos, their approach to scoring this and Turbo Kid, the look they all wanted to go for with the film, and the mixture of the fun and the sinister inherent in the music soundscape. There's also a new interview with the three directors (10m43s), who are still in a great mood and thank their fans while talking about the Spielberg and Carpenter influences, and the memories of the era that they incorporated into the story. However, the real coup de grace here might be the packaging which comes with a cardboard insert you can fold out into a replica of the milk carton seen in the film, which might be worth the price all by itself.

Reviewed on November 16, 2021.