Horror

Hereditary

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Annie’s estranged mother has passed away. In the wake of the death, Annie and the rest of her family feel the effects of the loss. It leads to Annie’s mental state spiraling out of control as she experiences blow after blow. While learning new and bizarre things about her mother, it becomes clear that the death of the family matriarch caused a ripple effect that will change their lives forever.

Writer and director Ari Aster takes audiences on a strange and unexpected journey in his feature film debut. One of the most compelling aspects of the plot for Hereditary is that the story continues to surprise and go in unique directions. I made an effort to avoid all advertising for the film after the release of the initial trailer. With only this very limited exposure, I still had an idea of what I thought the film would be about. However, as soon as the film begins, all preconceived notions are thrown out the window. At regular intervals audiences will be shocked by events in the film that completely take the plot in new and thrilling directions. There are times when the film feels like a psychological film and other times it feels like a supernatural film; yet, every moment is filled with anxiety and paranoia. Each revelation gives new details into the horrifying events taking place, driving the plot forward as it zigs and zags in ways you never see coming. It is the kind of film that is difficult to truly explain without dissecting the plot, but that would lead to spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it yet.

This may not be what audiences and critics traditionally call “scary”; however, Hereditary is truly disturbing and terrifying to watch. Aster brilliantly chose to incorporate incredibly subtle details from start to finish. These details immediately put the audience on edge by letting them know something isn’t quite right, they just aren’t sure how yet. These details are also often downright frightening. The wrongness of what Aster puts on the silver screen is something that audiences are able to feel just as much as see. There is maybe only one genuine jump scare in the entire film, but regardless, the entire film overflows with images that make viewers feel the anxiety and fear right along with the characters. The film is filled with a genuine sense of dread, leaving you deeply unsettled in both a visceral and disturbing way, more so than any jump scare ever could.

Much of these subtle details and terrifying images come from the beautiful way in which the film is shot. There are numerous stunning transitions and ways in which various scenes are framed that both add beauty to the film while also emphasizing the more disturbing parts. Aster also perfectly utilizes miniatures, made by Annie in the film, seamlessly weaving between the real world and the miniature models of the real world. The sets and locations add to this as well. The house where the Graham family lives is gorgeous and dark, giving it an eerie feel even before anything weird happens. There is a very neutral, dark color pallet in the film casting a shadow over the entire family. Every location gives a sense of isolation, from the houses to the art supply store. Even the sparingly used practical effects are subtle and dark as they are meant to heighten the paranoia rather than startle or scare audiences. These elements truly make the film just as stunning as it is disturbing.

The plot is carried by some absolutely superb performances. Toni Collette (Krampus, The Sixth Sense) gives what could be the performance of her career as Annie. Annie has lived a difficult life filled with tragedy, thanks in large part to her bizarre mother. Collette does an amazing job of conveying Annie as a woman who inwardly is strong, but on the outside she appears to others as unstable. She plays with the audience, making us wonder if Annie is sane, or if she is just as disturbed as her mother was. In many of the more intense scenes, Collette is simply perfect in the way she displays emotion and terror and helplessness. It is as if the role was made for her. One of the most surprising performances came from Alex Wolff (My Friend Dahmer, Patriots Day) as Annie’s son, Peter. Watching how Peter reacts as his family slowly falls apart, as well as how he reacts to the increasingly strange happenings, is absolutely mesmerizing. This was an unexpected performance from Wolff, and it makes me look forward to seeing him in more films. Finally, there is Milly Shapiro, in her film debut as Charlie. Shapiro somehow makes Charlie come across as both innocent and eerie, which is no easy feat. It is never clear how much or how little Charlie knows about what is going on around her, and it only adds to the anxiousness of the plot. The entire cast gives the film a haunting and emotional edge.

Hereditary is a disturbing descent into madness that highlights all the best parts of the horror genre. It takes you in directions you never imagined, and it fills you with a deep sense of anxiety, all the while giving audiences a completely unique plot. Combined with fantastic performances and gorgeously dark visuals, it delivers the perfect horror film. I’m confident this film will reveal new revelations and insights each time it is watched, due to how perfectly Aster incorporated minute details that may be missed on the first (or even second) viewing. With how minimal Aster kept many aspects the film, it is hard to believe how truly effective and terrifying every moment is. There is not a single thing I would change about this film, and I honestly can’t wait to see it again. My biggest piece of advice for fans going into this film for the first time: try your hardest to absorb every precise detail on the screen. You never know what might be important later on.

OVERALL RATING: 10/10

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Revenge

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Jen goes to an extravagant vacation house with her rich boyfriend. While there, her boyfriend’s friends show up early for their annual hunting trip. After a seemingly normal night of drinking, laughs, and dancing, things take a turn. Jen is attacked by one of the friends. After that moment everything spirals out of control, and Jen is left for dead. The men never expected her to survive, and they will soon come to regret it.

Rape-revenge films are fairly common in the thriller/horror genre. They all tend to follow certain rules and tropes, but French writer/director Coralie Fargeat brings audiences something fresh to her first feature-length film. This film being written and directed by a woman makes a huge difference in how not only the victim, but the rape itself is portrayed. One of the biggest differences is that, traditionally, the victims in these types of films are always sweet, virginal, innocent young women. In real life, women are not always the delicate victim in a white dress. Jen is very provocative with what she wears, she is flirtatious, and her boyfriend is a married man. Having an “imperfect” victim allows Fargeat to reinforce the idea that no always means no. It doesn’t matter if a girl was flirting with a man, or dancing with him, or anything else. When she says she does not want to have sex with a man, it needs to be respected. It is quite refreshing to see a more authentic character, and it only allows Fargeat to send a stronger message about rape culture. The final confrontation leaves the male in a vulnerable state while Jen is in a state of power, which makes it all the more satisfying to watch.

The rape scene itself is also treated much differently than in past films. In other films of the same genre the scenes are often long and drawn out to the point of making everyone in the audience very uncomfortable. While this is an effective method, Fargeat uses a different tactic. She made the decision to focus more on the events leading up to the rape. Then, during the act itself, everything is shown slightly out of focus. This allows the audience’s eye to be drawn to other things going on. One specific shot focuses simply on Jen’s hand against a sliding glass door as she is being attacked, but then the camera focuses on the reflection in the glass of another character going for a swim like nothing is happening. It is a tasteful and visually interesting way to film the scene.

The various character arcs are truly fantastic, and the performances make them even better. Matilda Lutz (Rings, The Fifth Wheel) plays Jen. When Jen is first introduced, she seems like just another party girl. As the film progresses, Lutz gets the chance to show Jen as a survivor. In a way, even her relationship with her married boyfriend is a method of survival. Lutz does a fantastic job of conveying Jen’s strength, especially in the climax of the film. Kevin Janssens (The Ardennes, Vermist) plays Jen’s boyfriend, Richard. What makes Janssens performance stand out is how, at first glance, he appears to be the perfect guy. As the film progresses, Janssens gets to show that Richard is a sociopath who cares for no one but himself. It is amazing to see the initial chemistry between Lutz and Janssens, and how quickly that all changes after Jen is attacked. Another compelling performance is from Vincent Colombe (Point Blank, My King) as Stan. Stan is Jen’s attacker. What I love about Colombe’s performance is how unwilling he was to face the consequences of attacking Jen. It is very satisfying to watch him continually fall apart as the film progresses, after letting his entitlement get the better of him.

The artistic aspects of Revenge are absolutely stunning. Much like the scene I described earlier, the cinematography brings a lot of beauty to the film. A large portion of the film is in a very stark, dead landscape, yet the way various scenes are shot brings everything to life. Even the sets chosen make the film gorgeous. The vacation house specifically gave the filmmakers a chance to really play with some fascinating angles and use of color. This is especially utilized in the climax for one of the most intense and breathtaking scenes of the entire film, putting an emphasis on bright colors, lots of blood, and amazing long-takes. The only true negative I can say for this film involves one visual element. At one point Jen uses a heated up beer can to cauterize a wound, leaving a burn impression on her skin of the beer logo. The problem is that the logo and lettering should be reversed, but when her skin is revealed it is not.

Another amazing artistic aspect is the film’s score. The score was composed by Rob, who is also known for scoring films such as Horns and Maniac. The electronic music, with very subtle 80’s vibes, goes will with some of the color choices used throughout the film. Rob’s music is fantastic because it blends in with the background when necessary. Yet, when the music really gets going, it elicits strong emotions in the audience (especially when it comes to getting behind Jen as she exacts her revenge). The score really only adds to the quality of the film and brings it to the next level.

Revenge is an intense, mesmerizing, and extremely brutal film. I can say without a doubt this film was my favorite at the International Horror and Sci-fi Film festival. Watching a rape-revenge film made by a woman made a huge difference in the film style and imagery, and it was for the better. Fargeat creates a compelling story with dynamic, raw characters. It sends a message about rape culture, while also being a stunning and entertaining film. The filmmaking, acting, artistry, and music make this film stand out from the crowd. Revenge is one you will not want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

Wildling

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Her entire life Anna has been locked away in an attic. Her father says it is to keep her safe from the Wildling, a vicious monster who ate all the other children. At the age of 16, Anna ends up free from the attic and taken in by the town sheriff. As she begins to go through the changes of puberty, she faces other changes as well. It seems that the stories Anna was told as a child aren’t quite what they seem.

Fritz Böhm makes his feature film directorial debut, while also having cowrote the film with Florian Eder.This film starts out very promising. It begins by following Anna as a child. This gives the audience time to get to know the character while also seeing her strange upbringing. The filmmakers do a very good job of showing Anna’s childlike innocence, despite her being a teenager, when she finally leaves the safety of her attic for the real world. Everything is new and different, and Anna’s reactions are well-written. There is one specific scene that stands out in particular. In it, Anna goes to a high school party. Afterward, she is pursued and attacked by a beast in the woods, creating a unique take on an attempted rape. The way the scene is shot is absolutely stunning, and it has a powerful message that it sends.

Where the film comes apart is when Anna starts to go through her many physical changes. Much of the issues stem from the visual aspects of the film. As Anna first starts to transform, her face looks shockingly dark. Part of this is due to the prosthetics, and part of it is because the entire film is simply much darker than it should be. When the final transformation is finally revealed, the special effects makeup is very well done. My only issue is that it looks a bit too much like a species of Australopithecus. Whether this was an intentional decision I’m not sure, but it felt like a strange de-evolution instead of a transformation into something new. There is also some poorly executed CGI used to enhance various scenes that not only takes away from the imagery, but it also seems unnecessary.

The second half of the film also has some odd character choices. One of those choices is the arc Anna’s father takes. His character does a complete 180 halfway through the film in a way that doesn’t feel genuine to what audiences have already seen of the character. There is also a character who acts as the “harbinger”, commonly seen in horror. The audience never learns who he is or why he’s there, which makes his presence stand out like a sore thumb. It is unfortunate that these things took away from what began as a truly compelling film.

For the most part the performances are the strongest aspect of this film. Bel Powley (A Royal Night Out, Carrie Pilby) plays the mysterious Anna. What makes Powley’s performance so compelling is how she conveys Anna’s innocence and wonder as she discovers new and exciting things out in the real world. Yet, even with how innocent and naive she is, there is still a noticeable strength within her that comes out more and more as the plot progresses. Liv Tyler (The Strangers, Armageddon) plays the town sheriff, Ellen Cooper. It is great to see Tyler in another horror film, but this is not her strongest performance. It isn’t necessarily bad, but it comes across as though she is simply going through the motions instead of putting any true emotion behind her portrayal. Horror legend Brad Dourif (Child’s Play, Alien: Resurrection) plays Anna’s father known only as “Daddy.” While the writing takes his character all over the spectrum, Dourif still does his best with the material he was given. His performance in the first half of the film, when he is caring for Anna as she grows up, is especially fascinating to watch. No matter what the role, Dourif always gives it his all.

Wildling has a promising start, but it comes apart when Anna’s transformation begins. It feels almost like two different films in one, and this unfortunately leads to multiple plot holes and strange character arcs. The dark coloring of the film and poorly used CGI didn’t help this matter. While the practical effects are well done, there is something about the seeming de-evolution of Anna that makes the transformation feel wrong. Luckily, the strong performances by Powley and Dourif help to carry the film from the compelling beginning to the convoluted end. Although this film may not be the strongest first feature film for Böhm and Eder, it is enjoyable enough that I’m interested to see what they do in the future.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

Lowlife

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El Munstro is the latest in a long and proud line of famed luchadors. While El Munstro had always been a symbol of hope for the Mexican people, this El Munstro works for his thug father-in-law named Teddy who meddles in underage prostitution and organ harvesting. Crystal is a recovering addict. She struggles with running her motel while also trying to keep her alcoholic husband alive, with Teddy’s help. Keith is Teddy’s accountant who picks up his best friend, Randy, from jail. Except Randy walks out of the prison doors with a giant swastika covering his face. These people don’t have much in common, but their worlds are about to collide.

This is director Ryan Prows’ first feature film, which he cowrote. The film was also written by Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, and Maxwell Michael Towson (Towson being the only one to have written a feature length film before). Lowlife is broken into different sections, allowing you to get to know each of the main characters. The segments are titles “Monsters,” “Fiends,” and “Thugs.” People will immediately be reminded of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, mostly due to the way the film is broken into separate subplots that all intertwine. While that connection is justifiable, Lowlife seems to take that concept and perfect it. The individual stories for each character feel complete, and with each segment more and more is revealed. The filmmakers designed it so the audience can understand more about what is happening with each segment, while also showing what is happening from different points of view. When the different subplots finally come together, it makes the climax of the film all the more intense and enthralling.

What pushes this film beyond being a typical suspenseful (sometimes comedic) drama with a bunch of unsavory characters is how much heart this film has. For the most part, all of the characters are truly horrible people. Yet, somehow, the filmmakers still make you care about what happens to them. The character arcs also show some interesting changes and growth from beginning to end that isn’t normally seen from these types of characters. There are also so many layers, not only to the plot but also to each character, that show no one is perfect. Each individual just tries to live their life the best they know how to.

The multidimensional characters would not have been as fascinating without the work of some fantastic actors. Ricardo Adam Zarate (Deadly Films) makes his feature film debut as El Munstro. This character speaks entirely in Spanish and is never seen without his luchador mask on. Zarate perfectly portrays how El Munstro straddles the line of being the noble fighter he believes he is, and the somewhat unstable madman he truly is. The way Zarate is able to emote through the luchador mask is also outstanding. Nicki Micheaux (The Shield, Animal Kingdom) shines as motel owner Crystal. Micheaux’s performance stands out because she brings the most heart and emotion of all the characters. It is impossible to watch her performance and not feel a strong sense of empathy for Crystal. Jon Oswald (Mata Hari, Boomerang Kids) plays the now ex-convict Randy. As soon as Randy appears on the screen with a swastika on his face, audiences will expect to hate him. Surprisingly, the writing combined with Oswald’s performance make Randy the most enjoyable character. He is funny without trying to be, and he is probably the only one of the characters who could be considered a wholly good person, despite what his appearance would suggest. Finally, there is the character Teddy, played by Mark Burnham (Wrong Cops, Hidden in the Woods). Burnham’s look in the film at first seems over-the-top, but his performance of the despicable and soulless Teddy brings all the flash and color back to earth. All of these actors, as well as one not mentioned here, will make you remember this film.

This is not a horror film, yet I am still writing this review for it. It may defy being placed in any one genre, but I would say it is mostly a thrilling crime drama with comedic elements. After watching this film at the International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, it was clear to me that I couldn’t see it without spreading the word about it. Lowlife gives a riveting snapshot into a world filled with criminals, yet it chooses to focus on the good within that deranged world. It weaves through multiple different plot lines, then sews them together seamlessly by the end of the film. The entire cast is outstanding, the writing is phenomenal, and it is incredibly well directed. If the fact that I wrote a review for this film on my horror site doesn’t make it explicit enough, let me make it more clear: go see this film.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Rock Steady Row

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In the not so distant future, college campuses become survival of the fittest. Two warring fraternities have taken over Rock Steady University campus leaving the rest of the student body to fend for themselves. On his first day of college, Leroy’s bike is stolen by one of the fraternities. Leroy attempts to get his bike back leading to fights, conspiracies, and a very strange freshman year.

This film is very difficult to fit into a specific genre. There are both dramatic and comedic elements, and at times there is action. An argument could be made that it is post-apocalyptic, and the film even feels like watching a video game in certain scenes. The film is definitely a hodge-podge of many different genres all rolled into one, and that is part of its charm. This is the first feature film directed by Trevor Stevens and written by Bomani Story. The pair took a simple concept, a freshman’s bike being stolen on campus, and turned it into an epic tale. While the universe created in the film is an extreme caricature of the real world, it is still something relatable and accessible to any viewer who spent time going to college. The plot simultaneously makes fun of fraternities, points out the capitalist habits of many universities, and shows that it often takes more than just intelligence to get a higher education.

The cast features many caricatures of people you likely encountered in college. Heston Horwin (Run, Speechless) plays freshman Leroy. In a way he is a typical college freshman, completely self absorbed and only concerned with himself and his bike. As his arc progresses, Horwin brings more heart to the character. Leroy goes through some fairly elaborate schemes to get his bike back, and watching Horwin portray this character through all his trials and tribulations is quite entertaining. Two of the most fun characters to watch throughout the film are the two fraternity leaders, Andrew Palmer and Augustus Washington III. Andrew is played by Logan Huffman (Final Girl, Lymelife). Huffman plays the caricature of the ultimate bro frat boy who thinks he can get whatever, and whoever he wants.  He is everything a person could hate in a frat boy, and Huffman plays Andrew so well he will make you laugh while your skin is crawling. Augustus is played by Isaac Alisma (Ready Set Blahe, The Arabian Warrior). Augustus is a different type of frat boy. He is the leader of the intelligent, borderline geeky, but still hip and cool frat. Alisma does a great job of making it unclear who Augustus is loyal too, although it is no secret that his own fraternity is always number one. Diamond White (Boo! A Madea Halloween, F*&% the Prom) plays Piper. We all know that person on college campus who is the perpetual activist, trying to expose the truth and make the campus a better place. Piper is that person in Rock Steady Row. White portrays Piper in a way that makes her straddle the edge of being too perfect, but she is still the most grounded and heart-filled character of the bunch. All of these actors and characters work well together on camera, making for scenes that run the gambit of emotions for the audience.

Of all the films I saw at the International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, this was probably the one with the most unique visuals. The film start with a fun animated back story, allowing the audience to get to know this somewhat futuristic world they are about to witness. From there the film focuses on a lot of really fascinating uses of color and light. Most of the color pallet is desolate beiges, greys, and other muted colors. Only the frat brothers wear bright colors; red for Andrew and his frat brothers, blue for Augustus and his frat brothers. When Leroy is traveling back and forth, trying to find a way to get his beloved bike back, the “travel” is shown by backlighting Leroy on a sound stage so all you see is his silhouette and whatever color is being projected in the lights. These scenes are where audiences will really get a sense of the video game and comic book style of the film. The film is really stunning to watch and  feels somewhat reminiscent of films like Turbo Kid and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but with its own unique flare.

Rock Steady Row is a film that defies definition, as well as expectations. Its a genre bending tale that will surely become a cult classic, especially with the unique imagery and storytelling style. The fact that there are so many different genres thrown into this melting pot can be a bit overwhelming, especially since there are so many different styles going on throughout the film. This means the film won’t be for everyone, but it is hard to deny how much fun this film is. It is sure to win the hearts of many cinephiles because of its unique content and style.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story

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Every horror fan knows Kane Hodder, whether they realize it or not. Sometimes he is a stuntman in the background of a film, other times the killer under layers of makeup or a mask, or even front and center in your favorite horror movie. His most famous film roles are from the Friday the 13th and Hatchet franchises, playing the main villains in both. While many people know of him because of his work in the film industry, not many can say they truly know who the man is. In the documentary To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story, audiences get to learn everything there is to know about their favorite horror villain.

The film does a great job of going through Hodder’s entire film history. We get to learn how he started doing stunts just to get a reaction out of his friends, and how that eventually led to him auditioning for a stunt film role. The documentary takes extra care to go over Hodder’s two biggest roles as Jason Voorhees, starting with Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, and Victor Crowley of the Hatchet films. Hodder has killed more people on screen than any other actor, and a majority of them are from those two fan-favorite franchises. It’s only natural that a lot of time would be spent on Hodder’s time in those films.

Looking at the hulking man we all know as Kane Hodder, it is hard to imagine anyone trying to pick a fight with him. Yet when Hodder was younger, he was bullied and beaten. While eventually he learned to hit back, which got rid of the bullies, he still went through a lot of hardship along the way. Hodder not only tells the story of his childhood trauma, but he uses this time to talk about the amount of physical and emotional harm bullying can do. He even discusses how often bullying can lead to suicide. Hearing that someone who plays Jason Voorhees went through the same experiences of bullying as many others not only reveals Hodder’s softer side, but it allows fans to relate to him on a more personal level.

Fans love meeting Hodder at various conventions. He always takes the time to talk to his fans, and if you want a photo of him strangling you he will strangle you for real. Anyone who has met the man in person has likely noticed the burn scars all over his body. For years the origin of those scars was kept relatively secret. While I won’t go into all the details, I will say that Hodder not only describes the true events that led to his horrific burns, but there are also still photos of the event shown. What’s even more horrific than the accident itself is the long recovery process that followed. While this is a horrible and tragic event in Hodder’s life, it actually benefited his career. Not only does he still do fire stunts to this day, but he also takes care to make sure that every stunt he performs (or coordinates) is the safest it can possibly be.

To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story is an absolute must for any horror fan. It shows a side of Hodder rarely seen by fans, and it allows us to connect with him even more. The documentary includes some great clips, images, and interviews with Hodder. It also has interviews with Hodder’s friends and other big names in the horror film industry such as Adam Green, Robert Englund, Bruce Campbell, and Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira). The documentary is equal parts funny, interesting, and heartfelt. Not only do I recommend this to avid horror fans, but I think even non-horror fans will appreciate learning about one of the greatest stuntmen alive.

OVERALL RATING: MUST SEE*

*Since this is a documentary about a person’s life, it didn’t feel right giving it a number rating out of 10. Instead I am giving it a “MUST SEE” designation. I strongly urge people to see this documentary, especially if you get the chance to see it on the big screen.

Summer of 84

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In a suburban town young boys are disappearing. One paperboy believes his police officer neighbor is behind it. He convinces his friends they should spend their summer vacation spying on him to get proof. Their little investigation leads the friends down a dangerous path. Is their neighbor an innocent man, or is he a serial killer?

One of the unique things about this film is that it has three directors. The directors are Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, who together also directed the film Turbo Kid. Something this trio is particularly known for is capturing the spirit of the eighties. Summer of 84 is no different. The plot follows along as the boys try to find proof their cop neighbor is the serial killer everyone is talking about in the news. Only one of the boys truly believes he is the killer, while the other three are just going along with their friend. While the film is an intriguing mystery thriller, it is also very much a coming-of-age story. This aspect of the plot is enjoyable, but it also makes certain parts of the film feel a bit slow. That doesn’t mean the plot isn’t very well written. There are just times when the various subplots, like a romance between two of the characters, is developed a bit too much, taking away from the main premise.

First time screenwriters Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith do a great job of getting the right eighties feel, creating a group of friends with a strong bond, and bringing a large dose of suspense. Specifically, in the climax of the film, there is a very well-written monologue that sends chills down the spine. Many of the revelations at the climax of the film are more than the characters ever bargained for. A common theme throughout the film is that people never reveal everything about themselves. While this theme is used to show that you never know who could be a serial killer, the writers also applied it to the people you think you know best. As the plot moves forward the audience learns there are things the friends keep from each other, and these things allow the audience to see a side of the kids no one else does. This layer of the plot adds a lot of depth to the coming-of-age aspect of the film.

For the cast of Summer of 84 the filmmakers primarily chose relatively unknown actors. Graham Verchere (The Good Doctor, Fargo) plays the leader of the group of friends, Davey. Davey is a bit of a conspiracy theorist, which is why when he tells his friends the neighbor might be a serial killer they all think he is just imagining it. Verchere gives a very endearing performance as he balances the line between investigating the cop, finding summer love, and being a good friend. Judah Lewis (The Babysitter) plays Eats, while Caleb Emery (Goosebumps) plays Woody. These two characters, and the actors’ performances, stand out because they act a certain way around people, but when you learn about their troubled home lives it gives the characters more depth. Rich Sommer (GLOW, The Devil Wears Prada) plays Wayne Mackey, the cop and suspected serial killer. Sommer’s portrayal of Mackey stands out because he straddles the line very well between being a typical nice neighbor and a creep. It keeps the audience continually guessing at whether or not he truly is the killer. The entire cast does a great job, delivering especially strong performances in the final act of the film.

This film had a lot of artistic details that make it very authentic and enjoyable. Both the clothing and the music do a great job of transporting the audience to 1984. Even the lighting and color scale used throughout the film lends to the desired time period. Another great artistic detail is the practical effects. The effects are saved until the climax of the film, and for the most part they are shrouded in darkness, but what can be seen looks great. There is a disturbingly gooey quality to the effects that makes them appear even more horrific. Each small bit of artistry adds to the overall appeal of the film.

Summer of 84 is a suspenseful throwback flick that hits close to home. It instills the idea that no one ever truly knows another person, and, in this film, that means anyone could be a serial killer – even your next door neighbor. The plot can meander a bit, but when it sticks to the primary premise it is thrilling and even heartfelt. All of the young actors do a fantastic job, and the suspected serial killer perfectly walks the line between being normal and suspicious. Summer of 84 is the kind of film that has a broad appeal, even for non-horror fans, and it will likely end up with quite the cult following.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10