‘Summer of 84’ 4K UHD Blu-Ray Review – Incredible Horror Mystery Subverts Genre Tropes With A Can’t-Miss Tale

There has been a growing love of indulging in nostalgia in recent years, especially when it comes to the 80s. Most of these explorations get connected back to Stranger Things somewhere along the way, but that is not always fair. When I first saw Summer of 84 from the directing trio of Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (best known previously for Turbo Kid) at Sundance in 2018, I was guilty of the same, at least at first. A group of precocious kids coming together to take on a force far greater than themselves with a seductive-yet-menacing electronic score underlining every one of their actions? Sounds familiar to us! Yet, the further you get into the story you realize that they are not capitalizing on nostalgia for the 80s, but rather smashing the illusion that there was a time when things were “better” and kids were free to be kids. Much has changed in the past several decades, but one thing that has remained consistent is that there has always been danger in the world, and life does not always end up like a movie. 

All seems picturesque in the town of Cape May, Oregon in the summer of 1984. As one character notes in the film, it is the type of place where “most people keep their doors unlocked.” Kids gather at night for a neighborhood flashlight game of manhunt, and they still have tree houses where they can get away from their parents. Of course, not much has been made of the thirteen boys who have disappeared in the town over the past decade, at least not in the way that would raise concern that the events were connected. This suddenly changes upon the publication of a letter from someone claiming to be responsible for the killings. The crack in the facade has just started, and it is only a matter of time before it splinters out. Fifteen-year-old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere, The Good Doctor) is your prototypical young, male protagonist who is not confident enough to be a “cool” kid but not so awkward as to be a social outcast. He is perfectly normal, if slightly quirky due to his belief in the weird and unexplained (think National Enquirer). With this in mind, it is hard for many to believe him when he expresses his belief that his kindly cop neighbor, Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer, GLOW), is the Cape May Slayer.

One of the brilliant things about this film is the way it plays with archetypes. The characters who populate Davey’s friend group are dynamic but can be distilled into a single idea; Dale “Woody” Woodworth (Caleb Emery, Good Girls) is the gentle giant who “looks 40”;  Curtis Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew, The 100) is the meek brainiac; and Tommy “Eats” Eaton (Judah Lewis, The Babysitter) is the sex-obsessed loud mouth who makes countless cracks about banging your mom. The film does a nice job of balancing the natural, foul way in which kids at this age speak with the indulgent dialogue that we have come to expect from “teen” films of this ilk. Upon first watch, especially, Eats is a character who seem over-the-top with his incessant sex jokes, but you come to understand he is the character who is representative of his “type.” He is supposed to be somewhat of a cliche, and this comes into greater focus upon the introduction of Nikki (Tiera Skovbye, Riverdale), Davey’s slightly older neighbor and former babysitter who is the dreamgirl of all the boys and suddenly comes back into Davey’s life. It is the perfect movie trope. 

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The atmosphere that is conjured through a combination of writing, cinematography and the score from Le Matos is both thrilling and deeply unsettling. After the initial balking at the idea that the “everyman” Mackey could ever be a killer, the group embark upon a fun summer investigation in earnest. While playing into tropes throughout much of the film, Summer of 84 perfects them along the way. Tailing the suspect around town, elaborate plans to plant a listening device, breaking into houses to look for evidence – we have seen it all before. It would even be fair to say that the story has a lot in common with The Window, down to misguided parents making their kids admit to the killer that they suspect them of misdeeds. Yet, that does not make it any less exciting to see these characters execute the scenarios in a way that will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s a believable fantasy; one in which a group of ragtag group of kids could get together to solve a mystery and save the day. 

This is not all the film is, though. This is not just another easily digestible mystery. The film plays with tropes so it can really make an impact when it does subvert them. You will be thrown for a loop from which you will not soon recover even after the credits have finished rolling. There is an inherent arrogance to youth, and by taking this theme and exposing it to real consequences the filmmakers have shattered the comforting blanket of nostalgia. Throughout the film, you can confidently say it is a fun time, but it is not until you reach the end that you can say that it gets into nightmare fuel territory. Through some truly fantastic performances, perfectly executed plotting and a technical prowess beyond reproach, the film delivers a true gut punch rather than a disposable lark. It is audacious filmmaking, and it only grows more impressive the more you reflect upon it. 

Video Quality

The 4K UHD Blu-Ray of Summer of 84 offers a striking upgrade from the already strong accompanying Blu-Ray. Skin tones appear very natural with healthy doses of crisp detail apparent on faces such as pores and grime. The increased range of the color spectrum is stunning to behold. The HDR enriches the colors from already lovely to out of this world when it comes to vibrancy. The idyllic landscape features vibrant pops of green vegetation, and there are some lighting choices that are reproduced in a way that is eye-popping. The highlights in the film are more defined with whites more pure and balanced with no instances of blooming to be found. Elements inside the house and surrounding environments are more vivid and finely delineated. The black levels are especially strong in this presentation, staying deep and inky with great detail. This 4K UHD presentation really delivers on all fronts including strong gains in clarity and color. The Blu-Ray is wonderful, but Gunpowder & Sky has delivered a fantastic transfer on this latest 4K release. 

Audio Quality

The Blu-Ray disc comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 track that is quite effective. One of the most impressive aspects of the film is the incredible score from Le Matos which is essential in evoking the feel of the era that fills up the room on this track. There are moments that assault you with some truly immersive environmental effects that keep the surround speaker filled with unsettling sounds. There is some nice ambient activity in the rear channels, especially during moments where tension is building to a nice scary payoff. The dialogue primarily stays in front center channels and is reproduced clearly. The track does a good job of making sure neither sound effects nor the score ever overpowers dialogue. When the thrills kick in, there is some heft to the low end that is appreciated in a narrative such as this one. This track has a substantial dynamic range that should please fans. 

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Special Features

  • Audio Commentary: Filmmakers Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell deliver a great commentary track in which they discuss why they wanted to tell this story, the process of finding the young performers, unused footage, reactions from festival screenings, the importance of staying through end credits and much more that makes this a fun listen. 
  • Demonitron Short Film: A nearly five-minute short film from 2010 that functions as a fake trailer for a film about a woman who gets mixed up with demons. There is some funny and unsettling imagery in this one worth checking out. 
  • Behind The Scenes Photos: A five-minute collection of behind-the-scenes moments from the production of the film. 
  • Storyboards: A seven-minute collection of early renderings of scenes from the film are provided here. 
  • Blooper Reel: A four-minute video featuring flubbed and forgotten lines, missed high-fives, giggle fits, alternate line readings and more that is a fun time. 
  • Interview with Cinematographer/Composers: A nine-minute virtual interview with the group Le Matos which includes Jean-Philippe Bernier, also the cinematographer, and Jean-Nicolas Leupi. In this piece, the two discuss their origins of the band, their collaboration with the filmmakers, how they approach creating music for film, creating a love-letter to the 80s and more. 
  • Interview with Filmmakers: An eleven-minute interview with filmmakers Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell in which they discuss how they came to the script, the anxiety over the possibility of being kidnapped as a child, cinematic influences, working with the young performers, branching out from Turbo Kid, what they want audiences to take away from this film and more. 

 

Final Thoughts

Summer of 84 is a truly outstanding horror film that knows how to indulge in nostalgia, but in a way that manipulates it for its own means. The story is deeply thrilling throughout, but it is not until you reach the end of the journey that you feel the full impact of what transpires. The youth performances are uniformly charming and memorable, and Rich Sommer nails a character who needs to be both lovable and menacing depending on what others suspect of him. The technical elements of the film are outstanding with the score especially being an element you want to return to over and over. Gunpowder & Sky and Vinegar Syndrome have released a 4K UHD Blu-Ray that has a stellar A/V presentation and a lovely assortment of special features. This is not to be missed for horror fans. Highly Recommended 

Summer of 84 is currently available to purchase on Standard Edition 4K UHD Blu-Ray or with a Limited Edition Slipcover exclusively through Vinegar Syndrome. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Gunpowder & Sky and Vinegar Syndrome have supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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