Goonies meets ET meets Close Encounters – Super 8

Summer is just about to begin, and a bunch of school kids are clandestinely filming a zombie film for a student film competition.  They are an odd bunch with a fat kid (Charles – Riley Griffith) is the director, the leading man is a somewhat thick-headed Martin (Gabriel Basso), the zombie who always get killed at the end of every scene is the pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee) and the lights camera action man is Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) who recently lost his mother.  To add some emotions to the proceedings the kids bring in Alice Dainard (Ellie Fanning) as the lead man’s wife.  The filming is happening at an abandoned railway station when Joe notices a truck driving on the train tracks to meet an oncoming train head-on.  A massive crash ensues and the train derails.  The kids are witness to the crash, and the aftermath as the Military moves in to clean up.  The town is soon besieged by a series of events leading to the disappearance of pets, humans and property.  No one is able to explain the events and the military men talk of a mysterious entity and  eventually begin an evacuation of the town.  The being captures Alice and this spurs the children on to a mission to uncover what is going on.  What follows has the thrill of a chase, the wonder of discovery, and the eventual and exhilarating thrill of freedom quite like the one we saw in ET!

JJ Abrams wrote this very much as a thriller in the vein of early Spielberg, and directs it as such keeping the interest focused on an unfolding story and engaging characters that we begin to identify with.  Kids out of school in summer, tracking strange and mysterious events, getting into trouble, these themes have been ever popular since the iconic Stand By Me.  There is something about the vulnerability of kids, coupled with their sense of adventure, that sparks these stories and makes them more thrilling for me. Somehow this genre of films goes above and beyond the usual summer “blow large objects up” blockbusters like Transformers and the various disaster films.  In the end the story is infused with soul and while the military is still the bad guy, and I mean REALLY BAD, this is Hollywood after all and such cliches are to be expected and must be endured.

Whats keeps Super 8 afloat is a charming bunch of kids, and some excellent and sparingly used VFX.  For a large part of the film it is wind, shadows and sounds that we experience.  In the end it is also about the outrage we all feel at capturing a sentient being and keeping it captive against its will.  This is an old-fashioned thriller that satisfies the appetite for big while keeping it out of the realm of stupid.  And if you go to see Super 8 you must stay till the very end to see the completed film that the kids made, it is hilarious.

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