SPOILER ALERT: None, although I discuss the third act very briefly in the end.
Summer of '84 is a solid little horror/thriller that wears its Amblin influences on its sleeve, and while it falls short of its fellow contemporaries, it still gives viewers something to chomp on.
This film is a riff on the Rear Window formula, set in the titular summer of '84 and focusing on a group of four friends. The main friend, Davey, is a bit of a conspiracy theorist, and after reports come out of a serial killer loose in the area, he begins to suspect his cop neighbor, Mr. Mackey (mmmkay). Together with his friends, they try to find out the truth. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it's a good premise that's worked in the past and works pretty well here, too.
This film suffers a bit from being released during a time of waning 80s nostalgia, and long after Stranger Things and IT made waves for nailing that unmistakable Amblin feel. French-Canadian directing trio RKSS make a valiant effort to recapture that feel with their low-budget production, but they can't quite hit those same high marks. The four kids are enjoyable, but they're mostly painted in broad strokes (the straight kid, the nerdy kid, the fat kid, the tough kid) and don't have much going on beneath the surface. The writing isn't as tight, and the production isn't as sumptuous, and on the whole the film feels exactly like what it is: A low-budget nostalgia trip.
There were a few times where it felt shaky, structurally. There's one sequence in particular that didn't pass the smell test at all, featuring Davey sneaking into someone's house while the others keep a lookout around town. The A-sequence is the house-sneaking, which would have taken maybe 5-10 minutes in total. Meanwhile, time clearly passes from day to night during the B-sequence of the friends keeping watch. The two sequences are intercut, implying that they're happening concurrently, but that would mean that it also takes Davey an entire afternoon to climb a set of stairs. It's pretty messy, but as far as low points go, it's not too bad.
Where it shines is in its wonderful soundtrack by synthwave stalwarts Le Matos. This is their second collaboration with RKSS after their first feature, Turbo Kid. Jean-Philippe Bernier of Le Matos is also RKSS' director of photography, so his eyes and ears are all over these films. The music is catchy, memorable, and fits in with the world very well. It's an extremely likable collection of tunes that are good to listen to with or without the film over it.
The directors spoke after the screening I went to, and they more or less confirmed that a lot of their creative decisions were made because "that's how things were back then." This sort of mindset makes me wince a bit, because while it may be "more accurate," it doesn't automatically lead to satisfying drama. I've personally been a slave to this mindset in my own work earlier in my career, so it was interesting to see it play out in a film like this with different filmmakers.
Bottom line, if you're into these kinds of nostalgia-tinged thrillers, Summer of '84 will provide the goods, even if it's a little sloppy at times. The third act in particular is one for the memory banks, and helps set the film apart from the rest. You won't find anything life-changing here, but what you will find is a solid film with a fantastic soundtrack that's worth the slightly-too-long 100 minutes you'll spend with it.