When you’re watching Super 8 this weekend you’ll feel transported to when as a child going to the movies was the hit of your week. Summertime didn’t just bring a break from school but the best movies you and your friends would be talking about for weeks. If Super 8 feels achingly familiar it’s because it is. You’ve seen this movies before, and I mean that in the best of ways.
J.J. Abrams‘ love letter to monster movies, coming of age tales from the 70s and 80s and Spielbergian, adventure-dramas is pitch-perfect at being just that, an homage to movies we’ve loved before. It’s not a film without faults and because it tries so hard to be like classics, E.T., The Goonies, Close Encoutners, it might just miss being considered one itself. But it sure does recall the nostalgia we have for those movies and those periods in our lives.
Because so much of what makes this film work is the unknown I will do my best to keep this review mostly spoiler free. But to be safe, it continues below the cut.
Super 8 follows a group of pre-teens beginning their summer on a somber note. One of them, Joe, has lost his mother in a deadly accident at the town factory. It has strained his relationship with his father, one that wasn’t particular close to begin with. To escape, Joe and his friends are shooting a zombie movie with an old Super 8 camera. Of course, for the film’s setting this camera isn’t old or out-date, but pay attention to how often the movie references their tech not being up to the task and how advancements are on the horizon.
While filming an important scene for their movie they witness, quite first handed-ly, a horrific train crash. Seriously, the trailers do not sell how crazy awesome this crash scene is. It’s waaaaay more exciting and perilous than any sequence in a flick like Final Destination. It’s, of course, in this horrific crash that something escapes from the train, something their Super 8 camera, discarded on the train platform, recorded.
From here things get weird; car engines, microwaves, telephone wires, are all being stolen. Dogs are leaving town. People are beginning to disappear. This is the point in the movie where we transition from a classic coming of age tale into classic monster movie. Whatever it was that escaped the train is hunting around town, and if the train crash was a brilliant action sequence the scene where our monster is stalking at a gas station is fantastic horror.
I’m not going to talk about the monster in detail, because, hell that spoils half the fun. Shrouded in mystery for much of the film when we finally do see it, it could come off a bit of let down, but really anything would appear a letdown compared to what you’ve been imagining. And honestly, the monster looks good, if not almost too good for a movie so heavily smothered with a 70s/80s feel.
Where Super 8 soars is with their cast, particular the kids. They’re phenomenal! So believable, so real, you grew up with these kids, or, hell, you probably were these kids. Sneaking out at night, riding your bike all around town, having an insanely messy room that was your den of everything you loved. The main three kids: Joe (Joel Courtney), Charles (Riley Griffiths), the obsessed director, and Alice (Elle Fanning), the beautiful girl and obvious crush whose father may or may not be involved in Joe’s mother’s death, are all fantastic. Elle Fanning especially will win you over at the train station with a touching scene right before the spectacular crash.
All in all, Super 8 is a big bucket of win. Some might feel a little disappointed at a slightly abrupt ending, but I don’t think it’ll hurt your enjoyment of the film overall. Besides, one of the best moments comes during the credits, so stay in your seat. Abrams has proven himself as a great director and storyteller once again. Is he like the second coming of Spielberg? Maybe, time will tell, when films like Super 8 have time to age and hopefully endure.