Film Review: Super 8

(Published on Rushes Online Film Magazine, and read this in In Retrospect – Issue 1)

From the incredible combination that is director and writer J. J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg, Super 8 is a sci-fi adventure about a young group of friends who witness a mysterious train crash. Resulting in a number of strange happenings around town, the group take it upon themselves to investigate into the creepy phenomenon. Here, their friendships are put to the test as bonds are developed and a romance blossoms. Whilst you may expect a scary creature-feature, Super 8 is all PG and it’s these relationships that are the focus of the story.

Set in the summer of 1979 in a small Ohio town, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is mourning the loss of his mother. His father, Jackson (Kyle Chandler), is the town’s deputy and isn’t around to comfort him, opening the film with this obvious disconnection. Whilst Joe clutches onto his mother’s locket and watches home-movies in bed, he displaces his grief by sneaking out and helping his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) make an amateur zombie film with his super 8 camera, which he hopes to submit to a local film festival. Whilst out filming one night with the rest of the group – pyro Cary (Ryan Lee), worrier Martin (Gabriel Basso) and goody-two-shoes Preston (Zach Mills) – the boys are joined by a girl, Alice (Elle Fanning), the town drunk’s daughter who sparks a love interest in the group.

During filming, the group witness a pickup truck drive onto the railway track, derailing an oncoming US air force train and causing a destructive aftermath spilling the contents of thousands of small white cubes. The group is quick to learn that this was no accident as a half-alive man from the truck that caused the incident drops a map of the trains route exclaiming, “They will kill you. Do not speak of this or else you and your parents will die.”

When the US air force take over the investigation and start to clean-up the mysterious items that their train was transporting, unfamiliar things start happening around town. Dogs start running away to the outskirts of town, engines become missing from cars and the electricity wires around town disappear. The whole town looses its power and all technical appliances start playing up and going missing, creating suspicions for all. That is, at least, until the monster that is the star of the film starts making its appearance as it starts dragging people underground to feed on later.

Armed with sparklers for a light source and fire crackers for a distraction, the group take us on a brilliantly nostalgic Goonies-style adventure. There’s no doubting the talent of these young actors. Cary brings in a lot of the laughs with his love of explosives and Martin brings the cringe when reacting to every incident by being sick while Preston is too scared to break the rules resulting in us not seeing a lot of him. It’s likely that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Joel Courtney in future films too as he and Elle Fanning take the spotlight throughout.

However, it’s the monster that we are so eager to meet that lets us down, appearing and sounding like a Transformer and having the apparently lovable personality of ET. Abrams has made a name for himself through these mysterious monster films, as with Clover Field and his series of Lost. Fans of his don’t expect to see he monster fully; we don’t want to ruin the suspense with the full visual of this monster as we occasionally see its reflection or it moving in the background. Unfortunately, this isn’t long-lived in Super 8, and the monster fails to live up to the hype that the trailers built it up to be.

I guess it would only be wrong to expect another Clover Field from Abrams, both with the monster’s appearance and the darker story-line. But anything would have been better than how Super 8 ended. The PG twist had Spielberg written all over it. Not only was it disappointing, but it also brought a sudden end to the film, leaving us to question: “Is that it?” If you expected a kids film beforehand then you won’t find anything to complain about, mainly because there’s nothing to fault until the final ten minutes. Sadly, the film’s trailers gave it slightly the wrong angle which only left me expecting something more.

The Telegraph described Super 8 as “the sweetest film of 2011.” Is that really what Abrams was aiming for? I think it’s safe to say that Super 8 is Clover Field’s younger brother, the one that has to be in bed before 9pm.

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