Review: “Super 8″ (2011)

For this horror movie nut who grew up in the Midwest in the ’70s and ’80s, J.J. Abrams‘ monster movie nostalgiapalooza Super 8 sounded like a missing page from my own childhood. Many of the ingredients of my own youth – late-night train track mischief, firecracker-crazed kids (every neighborhood had one), rolling hills, zombie worship, and constant abject confusion over the behaviors of adults, to name a few – brought me back to a time and place I’d honestly all but forgotten. Only instead of our regular summer game of kick-the-can, Super 8 involves missing persons, guerrilla filmmaking, and a battle with a very large, very pissed-off alien.

So while Super 8 ultimately might not be as amazing as many of us had hoped it would be, it’s still a very solid action movie that for some viewers may hold more memories than your standard high school yearbook.

And if not, well … that train crash is still pretty fucking mint.

Super 8 tells the story of a group of kids in Lillian, Ohio who are trying to complete a no-budget zombie short for a local film festival while of course also dealing with the random assorted stresses of adolescence in a small town. At the quiet center of the gang is Joe (insanely watchable newcomer Joel Courtney), whose mother was recently killed in a factory accident and whose deputy father (cutiepantsed Kyle Chandler, in uniform!) has all but shut down due to grief.

Joe’s best friend, budding director Charles, is the charismatic leader of the gang, and has assembled a ragtag group (hey, this is retro-Spielbergian kiddie-friendly sci-fi here, so let’s pour on the charmingly square adjectives, eh?) to help him with his film. One kid is a hypochondriac pussy, another’s a firebug asshole (and of course my favorite character). And Alice (Elle Fanning, who has officially The Twilight Saga: Eclipsed her sister Dakota in terms of both talent and adorableness) is the girl from the wrong side of the tracks with a heart of gold with whom Joe justifiably falls deeply in love.

Unfortunately, Alice’s father, Louis (Ron Eldard, looking shockingly like my pal, underground accordion arena-rock performance artist Corn Mo) was somehow involved in Joe’s mother’s death and his deputy father something something. Already I’m myself forgetting that there’s an alien to discuss.

Anyway, small-town drama steps aside for big-time blowing up of things when a freight train is deliberately derailed by a pickup and something massive and mean escapes. Dogs start scattering, people start disappearing, and suddenly the threat of braces or school picture day isn’t the biggest thing for these kids to worry about.

So on the one hand, Super 8 is a Cloverfield-lite spectacle about a big thing smashing buildings and shit, and on the other hand it’s The Sandlot. Either would be fine on its own, and together they’re better than average, easily. But somehow the combo of very real family drama seriously slows things down and makes the action seem kind of ridiculous by comparison, which doesn’t do either storyline any favors.

Yes, many classic Spielberg-produced kids’ action adventures also had domestic drama (The Goonies, E.T., and Gremlins come to mind), but it somehow never detracted from the awe and wonder that got you into your seat to begin with. I guess starting the movie with a dead mom kind of paints everything that follows with a pretty grim brush.

Thankfully, the acting on the part of Courtney and Fanning is exceptional (the smaller, first-blush-of-romance moments feel very authentic), which makes up for the fact that Super 8 lacks a lot of the (obvious) humor that helped E.T. and the like burrow into our hearts. In fact, if there’s any Spielberg film that we should really be likening Super 8 to, it’s War of the Worlds, which was as dark and ruthless a family genre film as he ever made (and also similarly employed a Fanning to maximum effect).

In the end, is the alien awesome? Nah. Is the concept revolutionary? Not at all. But it’s got a few fantastic action sequences, Nan Flanagan from True Blood plays a killer small-town mom, and little Simon from Seventh Heaven has blossomed into a major hottie, even when obscured by late-seventies pot-dealer drag.

If you want to spend an enjoyable few hours remembering your own childhood and the movies that gave it its shape, definitely check out Super 8. And even if not, check it out anyway – it’s not like the new Transformers is gonna be any better.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

Super 8 is Rated PG-13 for alien violence, harm to Midwesterners, drug references, and some hilariously low-fi Evil Dead knockoffery


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Buzz created CampBlood.org in 2003 to meet a need for a safe place for weirdos of all stripes to discuss horror movies from a queer perspective. Now that the campers have overtaken the Camp staff and locked them in the Arts & Crafts cabin he is questioning that decision.