Nostalgia in Canadian Horror: Summer of 84
I enjoyed the Netflix film, Summer of 84, but not at first.
At first, I thought the plot was contrived, the characters were cardboard cartoon cutouts, and the plot was predictable.
Some of these criticisms are true, I guess, but I still found 2018’s Summer of ’84 enjoyable.
There’s a lot to love in the Summer of ’84 movie, and I started out here writing my review: why I liked it and why I didn’t. But what ended up happening was me writing a piece about nostalgia and the 80s and 90s.
I hope you enjoy this journey. As I wrote it, I discovered a lot. I hope you will too.
Nostalgia in TV and movies is often a cheap shot. At least that’s how I see it. For example, one reason I like season 1 of Stranger Things the best is because although the show took place in a retro setting, the “nostalgia value” wasn’t a prime feature of the show as it was in later lessons, once I guess the directors realized that people love the 80s.
Somehow, Summer of 84 managed to evoke nostalgia from my memories of the late 80s and early 90s. And the director used strange and interesting techniques to get the job done.
Take the opening monologue. Davey Armstrong talks about how “nothing much happens in this town.” That kind of rebellious attitude towards the suffocating suburban white picket fence lifestyle is very, very evocative of the 90s.
In some ways, this “small town” problem might not even exist in the same way for the present and future generations, because now they have the internet, so they’re not isolated from the outside world anymore. That could be one reason why the whole suburban “nothing much happens” vibe is such a powerful tool for nostalgia when setting the tone for Summer of 84.
And by the way, it’s so cool that they opened the movie with this monologue. Because right away we know where and when we are: the setting is in suburban America in the 1980s. Pure nostalgia.
I should point out that David Lynch films of the 80s and 90s had a similar vibe. Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks were all about small American towns that had the craziest stuff lurking in the background, just beneath the surface. I wonder if David Lynch’s independent, low budget films set a benchmark for Summer of 84, which is itself an independent film. Or even inspired it.
In a nutshell, the suburbs are, as protagonist Davey Armstrong says, “where the crazy shit happens. You never know what’s coming around the corner.”
Antagonist (spoiler alert)
Let me segue from the flick’s introduction into the bad guy of Summer of 84. My segue is made easy by the fact that Summer of 84 did it real, real, smooth. I mean smoother than melted butter. Smoother than a fresh jar of skippy. I mean the way the way the directors (there were 3) transitioned to the antagonist basically told the whole movie within the first 2 minutes.
When Davey says “you never know what’s coming around the corner,” and then he sees the newspaper article about the missing boy, and then he looks up to see police officer Wayne Mackey, that’s it. In retrospect, you can appreciate that you have just watched the entire movie within the first two minutes.
And to tie this whole thing together perfectly, there’s a sense of naivete about the antagonist. The fact that the main character is overly skeptical may strike certain viewers as cliche. Alien stickers and conspiracy theories were more interesting back then. News traveled slower, and to fewer people. So that’s the first thing: if you’re too jaded to appreciate the fact that Davey’s obsession with conspiracies turned out to be right, then you were either born too late or have lost touch with that era of humanity.
What’s even more interesting is that the person you thought was gonna be the killer all the way at the beginning actually turned out to be the killer, and there’s a kind of beauty to that, in a simple kind of way. Which is the point of nostalgia, isn’t it. It was a simpler time.
Growing up in the 90s, you used to hear the older generation talk about a “simpler time.” Now here I am, in the second half of my thirties, appreciating my own childhood days for the same reason. What a fucking hypocrite.
In a way, it’s different, comparing the iPad kids of today with the 90s kids, then comparing 90s kids to the boomers. I mean, after all, the internet changed everything. But on the other hand, everyone’s experience is different, and I specifically remember being a high school student and looking back on the hippie and beatnik days with a kind of rose-colored view.
Even in ancient Rome, Julius Caesar’s generation was said to be starkly different from the generation of their parents. And the guy wore tassels, for fuck’s sake. His uniform was drip. To hell with Cato and Cicero.
What I’m trying to say is that maybe the generation gap is a universal truth. And maybe it’s not. Maybe every generation will look down their nose at the world and think, forever, “the world used to be a better place,” and sigh.
But in spite of everything, in spite of the evidence I’ve presented to the contrary, I really do think the 80s and 90s were a special time. Maybe not because they themselves were possessed of particularly special qualities, but at least because it was the time before the world went crazy with the patriot act, facebook, facial recognition technology, and Siri.