DirectorFrancois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Release Date(s)2018 (November 30, 2021)
Studio(s)Brightlight Pictures (Gunpowder & Sky)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
The filmmakers behind the 2015 cult favorite Turbo Kid returned three years later with Summer of 84, a nostalgia-driven suspense thriller with a little more going on under the surface than most are likely to give it credit for. The setup is that a group of young teenagers begin to suspect that their next door neighbor is a serial killer, but proving it is going to be difficult since he’s a police officer. They stake out his house and attempt to get evidence in order to persuade their parents and the police to take them seriously, but whether they can do it without getting caught is another matter.
A number of films have attempted a Rear Window scenario in which someone suspects their neighbor of wrongdoing, but Summer of 84 does things a little differently by playing with one’s expectations. Going in, you’re already judging the film based upon the glut of 80s-themed media that’s come along in the last couple of decades. This turns out to be both a curse and a blessing. Instead of a fun summer adventure for a group of boys meeting girls, finding love, and ultimately getting out of a threatening situation, they’re led down an alternate, and much more sinister path. Discussing it would only spoil it, but rest assured that this film isn’t what you think it is. And that automatically makes it more interesting than many of its counterparts.
That’s not to say that Summer of 84 is beyond criticism. The acting is stiff and there’s a lack of overt visual style, other than attempting to create a creepy atmosphere, particularly during scenes when the kids are searching the guy’s house for evidence. And although it’s a budgetary thing, shooting it on film would certainly have lent it further authenticity, even a bit of verisimilitude. Nevertheless, there are plenty of effective moments sprinkled throughout that many of its flaws can be overlooked, if not outright forgiven.
So why set the film in the 1980s? It seems to want to make the point that it was a dangerous time for teenagers and young kids, but one can make a valid argument that COVID-19 and random shooters in classrooms have elevated things since then considerably. That said, Summer of 84 not only implies, but says out loud that serial killers are lurking around every corner, and that your neighborhood isn’t as safe as you might think it is. It’s definitely a more interesting direction than merely aping Stranger Things, The Goonies, The Monster Squad, IT, or any number of other similar properties. With or without the heavy-handed message, it’s still a decent little thriller.
Summer of 84 was captured digitally by cinematographer Jean-Phillipe Bernier in the Redcode RAW codec using Red Epic Dragon cameras, with Cooke Anamorphic/i and Angenieux zoom lenses, and was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Gunpowder & Sky brings the film to Ultra HD with grading for high dynamic range (in HDR10). Considering that the film previously had a BD-R release only, a UHD release is certainly a change for the better. Since the same master was sourced, the improvements in terms of fine detail are not readily apparent, but they’re definitely there. Blacks are slightly deeper and details on skin and costumes are boosted. Flesh tones are more accurate, despite having an oddly orange appearance in various scenes (whether this is intentional or not is unclear, but it may be a stylistic choice) and contrast is heightened. The new HDR grade reveals much more detail in the color palette as well. Reds, greens, and blues are richer, and colors throughout the town and inside houses—particularly browns, yellows, and tans—have greater range as well. It’s a far more saturated palette, allowing for more distinct separation and dimensionality, particularly in the foreground.
The audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio format with optional subtitles in English SDH. The track offers a smooth listening experience, doling out plenty of LFE for music cues and score, while also giving sound effects punch. Dialogue exchanges are discernible, and the atmospherics fill the surrounding speakers nicely. It’s not demo worthy, but it delivers a solid sonic experience.
In addition to the 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray disc of the film is also included in 1080p. Both discs feature the following extras, all in HD:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Audio Commentary with “RKSS”
DISC TWO: BD
- Audio Commentary with “RKSS”
- Demonitron: The 6th Dimension Short Film (4:29)
- Behind the Scenes Photos (57 in all – 5:08)
- Animated Storyboards (6:57)
- Blooper Reel (4:22)
- Love Letter to the ‘80s (8:45)
- We Were Those Kids on BMX (10:43)
The audio commentary features the filmmakers known collectively as “RKSS,” which includes Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. It’s a lively commentary as the three discuss the film extensively while watching it together. They share laughs and anecdotes about their experience while going into detail about the story, the cast, and the crew. They even mention some deleted scenes, which aren’t included on this release. Thing get a bit quiet at times, but they manage to get themselves back on track. Next is a set of behind the scenes photos and storyboard sequences, the latter of which is animated slightly for presentation. Love Letter to the ‘80s features a Skype/Zoom interview with cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier and composer Jean-Nicolas Leupi, the latter of whom is one half of the composing team known as “Le Matos.” We Were Those Kids on BMX also features a Skype/Zoom interview, but with “RKSS.”
Both discs sit inside a black amaray case with a fold-out replica of the “McDowell Farms” missing kid milk carton as seen in the film. The reversible artwork features new artwork on the front and the previous home video artwork on the back. If you purchased the limited edition of this release through Vinegar Syndrome directly, you would have received it in special packaging, which was a slipcase also featuring new artwork.
Summer of 84 certainly doesn’t rewrite the book on next door neighbor thrillers, but it holds its own in many ways with plenty of moments that will linger with you for days. The Gunpowder & Sky Ultra HD release offers the film in the finest quality yet with a nice set of extras. For fans of the horror and thriller genres, it’s definitely worth your time.
- Tim Salmons