Three years ago, the filmmaking group known as RKSS – François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell – came to Sundance with a delight of a film called Turbo Kid. Turbo Kid was a blast, full of hilarious gore, ingenuity and heart. Now they’ve returned to the festival with another triumph in Summer of ‘84, a film full of magic and heart, yet also a sense of shocking darkness that shows these filmmakers are really growing.
Summer of ‘84 follows Davey, a 15 year old obsessed with conspiracy theories who becomes convinced that his next-door neighbor Wayne Mackey, a benevolent cop, is the serial killer that’s been haunting the region. He rounds up his group of friends to open their own investigation into Mackey.
The cast of young adults are winning, having an easy chemistry and banter that comes with being lifelong friends. Rich Sommers is a delight as Mackey. He’s so naturally kind and unassuming, but Sommers give us a malevolent seeming side to him that we never really saw on Mad Men. You really start to see the dark side that Davey does with little looks and movements from Sommers.
The direction from RKSS really draws you into the magical, dreamlike quality of being a kid during the summer with their lively camera and shadowy lighting. There’s just heart and humor in about every frame. Out of all the “remember the 80s?” works that have flooded us recently, this is the best. This is like if Stranger Things and It weren’t terrible, because it doesn’t hit you over the head with the fact that it’s set in the 80s, it just lets you feel it in how these kids talk and the overall aesthetic.
What’s really striking is just the growth RKSS has shown with this film, it’s a much more mature film than Turbo Kid. After the cult success of Turbo Kid, they could have tried to make another carbon copy of that film but instead chose to challenge themselves. Summer of ‘84 is a much darker piece than Turbo Kid, it goes to some uncomfortably dark moments, but it’s all to reinforce the reality of the situation and the real consequences this sort of situation would have. It’s a jarring effect, contrasting the adventurous spirit of the film. It’s a reminder that these dangers these kids are facing are very real. Without spoiling anything, I support the dark decisions the filmmakers make towards the end, because it’s a much more haunting work this way. I look forward to watching this trio grow more.