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Summer of ’84 Review

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Genre : Horror, Mystery
Country : Canada
Director: RKSS

Cast:
Graham Verchere, Caleb Emery, Rich Sommer

 

Like plenty of other fans of genre films 2015’s Turbo Kid was constantly on my radar. Seemingly overnight this short for ABC’s of Death became the talk of the horror community. Directed by the Canadian trio of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (collectively known as RKSS) Turbo Kid promised to be a throwback to the cheapo sci-fi movies of the 80’s. Utilizing Canada’s natural environment, a killer synth soundtrack and practical effects Turbo Kid delivered in a way few other nostalgia-leaning movies have. Clearly having an affinity for a time when VHS was king RKSS returns to the 80’s. More specifically the Summer of ’84.

It’s the summer of 1984, the perfect time for 15-year-old to be a kid one last time. That is exactly what Davey Armstrong planned on doing until he saw something suspicious. Suspecting a local police officer of a string of murders Davey and his friends spend the summer investigating. But things take a turn for the dangerous as Davey and his friends uncover the truth about the Cape May Killer.

 

 

When Turbo Kid came out one of the most recognizable traits of the movie was how RKSS wore their influences on their sleeve. For Turbo Kid it was eclectic group of cult classics with R.O.T.O.R. and BMX Bandits being the most obvious. In Summer of ’84 the people behind RKSS try their hand at more familiar fare, the 80’s coming of age tale. And while Spielberg seems like the obvious route to go RKSS look to other 80’s classics for inspiration. A werewolf-less mix of Monster Squad, Silver Bullet and Stand by Me, Summer of ’84 nails the aesthetic and feel of those 80’s classics without feeling dependent on it. In fact, of these 80’s inspired films Summer of ’84 is one of the deeper tales. Like Stand by Me what starts as a lighthearted adventure becomes a look at growing up and the hardships and horror unique to suburbia. And just like The Goonies a huge reason Summer of ’84 works is the cast assembled.

Like all classic coming-of-age stories Summer of ’84 is led by a quartet of endearing teenage boys. And while each of them fills a certain niche each feel like real people thanks to the glances we get at their home life. Home lives that, no matter how bad they get, disappear as these friends get together. Sharing a real sense of comradery and chemistry their investigation into the Cape May Killer is led by Davey, portrayed by Graham Verchere. Obsessed with conspiracy theories he has is like Fox Mulder if he were one of the Goonies. By his side is best friend Woody, played by Caleb Emery. As good as the other actors are the chemistry Woody shares with Davey feels the most real. Another stand out performance comes from Rich Sommer as Officer Wayne Mackey. As Davey’s main suspect he straddles the line between good and evil beautifully and will have you guessing until the end.

While some trends come and go 80’s nostalgia always seems to be in vogue. Whether it’s a hit series like Stranger Things or smaller fare such as slasher homage Lost After Dark the 80’s will always have a place in pop culture. And few creators get this quite like RKSS. With a love for the time period this trio are able to replicate the style without outright repeating it. Aside from some pacing issues Summer of ’84 is able to find its own voice delivering a clever game of cat-and-mouse that delivers more than one shocking twist.

Rating 8/10
Links : IMDB

Summer of ’84 is now available on VOD

Comedy

Happiest Season Review

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It’s that time of year again, and even though its only November, Christmas movies are starting to be released as everyone puts up their tree and starts counting down the days. Now I’m not normally a fan of Christmas films nor am I really fan of rom-coms either, so, as you can imagine, I was very pleasantly surprised by how good Happiest Season is and by how much heart this film has.

Happiest Season follows Abby (Kristen Stewart) who plans to propose to her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) on Christmas at her parents’ annual holiday party but things don’t quite go to plan when Abby learns that Harper hasn’t come out yet to her parents. Abby and Harper have to pretend to just be friends to Harper’s family which creates problems for the couple.

The whole film is full of charm and joy but it also contains a lot of substance, which is very refreshing for a Christmas rom-com. At the film’s heart is Abby and Harper’s relationship, perfectly captured by the performances from Stewart and Davis. Stewart shows the frustration she feels about keeping Harper’s secret so well and she manages to shine in both the comedic scenes but also in the dramatic and sensitive scenes as well. Davis is very good too, but it does feel much more like Abby’s film than Harper’s. Whilst the film is anchored by Stewart and Davis, the supporting cast is filled with great actors; Alison Brie is so much fun as Harper’s older sister Sloane and Schitt’s Creek’s Daniel Levy is on great form as Abby’s best friend John. Aubrey Plaza, Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber also shine and provide lots more heart and laughter to the film.

As well as the impressive cast, the writing from Clea DuVall (who also directed) is really good too, with the film providing so many great quotable moments and many moments that made me laugh out loud. But the film also feels really tender and human as well and DuVall manages to juggle the comedic and sensitive scenes of the film really well and she handles the lesbian relationship at the film’s centre very well. Happiest Season can definitely join the list of fun, worthy Christmas rom-coms.

It’s just a lovely film and you can’t help but smile and laugh along with which is just what you’d expect from a nice straightforward Christmas film but Happiest Season has much more to offer than that as it grapples with ideas about sexuality and acceptance and family, thus creating a film with a lot of meaning and a lot of heart. For the first half of the film, it did feel a little bit generic and there was nothing too special about it as it shifts between some rather OTT comedy and trying to set up some really emotional and sincere moments but it was in the final act where the film really hit the mark and it really went somewhere and achieved something really strong and powerful.

Overall, Happiest Season is a nice, fun Christmas film with heartfelt performances and a great message that leaves you with that warm, bubbly feeling that you expect from a Christmas film.

3.5/5

Happiest Season is available on Hulu or available to rent or buy in many other countries now.

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Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula Review

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After 2016’s hit Train to Busan wowed audiences around the world, the highly-anticipated sequel has finally arrived, and it doesn’t disappoint. Whilst it’s not quite as sharp as the first film, it still very entertaining and there’s still plenty of great zombie action to keep you engaged.

Peninsula is set 4 years after the zombie outbreak and after the first film. It’s a standalone sequel so you don’t need to have seen Train to Busan– although you really should seek it out because it’s great and it’s probably the best zombie films ever made by someone other than George A. Romero. Peninsula follows soldier Jung-seok played by Gang Dong-Won who receives an enticing offer to return to the quarantined peninsula to retrieve an abandoned truck filled with money. The mission goes wrong and Jung-seok and his friend get ambushed by a mysterious militia called Unit 631. All sorts of zombie chaos arise as Jung-seok must find a way to escape the peninsula once and for all.

Let me get straight out there and answer the question that’s on the minds of all Train to Busan fans, “Is Peninsula as good as the first film?”. No. Peninsula is definitely a step down from Train to Busan but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, far from it. The 2016 film had set the bar so high that it was very unlikely that Peninsula would be better. Train to Busan is one of my favourite zombie films of all time and whilst Peninsula isn’t as good, I still had a great time with it and thought it was very good.

The sequel definitely isn’t as sharp as the first one and it does suffer a bit from sequelitis as it feels like it must be bigger and bolder than its predecessor when, in fact, it doesn’t need to be. Train to Busan had lots of great zombie action scenes as well as scares but it was also very character-driven and had much more to it than zombies and blood. That’s where Peninsula falls down unfortunately. Whilst this isn’t a problem if you just want to watch an entertaining zombie film, the film is slightly disappointing if you were hoping it to be on the same level as Train to Busan. It gets a bit ridiculous in some of the action scenes, particularly in the final act, with it almost turning into a Fast & Furious film; perhaps a more appropriate title for it would have been 2 Train 2 Busan.

Saying that, the film doesn’t need to be compared to its predecessor. If you don’t expect it to be as good as the first film, you’ll have a great time with it. I definitely preferred Peninsula to the 2016 animated prequel Seoul Station and even on its own, I really enjoyed Peninsula and was very entertained by all the great action scenes. The film goes all out on trying to up the spectacle on the first film and if, like me, you love some good zombie mayhem there’s no reason you won’t really enjoy it. There’s action throughout and even though it’s more cartoonish this time around, it’s really good entertainment and great fun.

Overall, Peninsula isn’t as tight a film as Train to Busan but that’s alright, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the zombies here and I had a thrilling time and it’s probably one of the best zombie films since its predecessor.

4/5

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula will have limited cinema screenings due to cinema closures but it will be available on digital download from November 23rd and on all other formats from November 30th in the U.K.

 

 

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FrightFest 2020 Review: Don’t Look Back

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For the second time in 2020, the Arrow Video FrightFest has gone online after cancelling the physical event that was planned to take place in Leicester Square from October 21-25. Despite not being in person, FrightFest still has plenty of films and scares to be had.

Don’t Look Back is the directorial debut from Jeffrey Reddick who’s best known for creating the Final Destination film franchise. Reddick’s directorial debut has many similarities to Final Destination; in Final Destination, we see a group of people cheat death and so death comes for them. In Don’t Look Back, it’s karma that comes to kill them. Despite the similarities, Reddick manages to show that he’s got a lot to offer in the director’s chair.

Don’t Look Back follows a young woman called Caitlin, played by Kourtney Bell, who is still overcoming her traumatic past when she, and a few others, witness a man being attacked in the park and none of them do anything to stop the attack. The witnesses including Caitlin then start getting targeted by someone, or something out for revenge.

The film begins with phone-footage of witnesses watching people being attacked. Instantly the film starts to make you question what you would do in these situations and if you would just stand and watch or would you be the one to intervene and to help the victims?

Don’t Look Back gets straight into it as very early on we get a scene that gets straight into the action and sets up the trauma that Caitlin then experiences for the rest of the film. Whilst the films does get straight into it at the start, it does go a little quiet for some time. One slightly disappointing thing about the film, particularly when compared to Final Destination, is that there are very few scares in this film. There isn’t much blood or gore or actual horror to it which is a shame, but the film is still entertaining without any of that.

The film plays a lot on the idea of karma ad it’s an interesting concept to play about with although at times it can be a little too on the nose. Sometimes all of this, in particular the film’s opening, and the idea of karma is just waved in the audience’s face far too explicitly and perhaps a slightly more subtle approach would have been better.

Overall, whilst Don’t Look Back isn’t anything too exciting or different and it could do with a few more scares, it’s not bad and fans of Final Destination will definitely enjoy it and have a good time with the film.

2.5/5

Don’t Look Back is in cinemas and available on-demand in the US now

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