I wasn't sure if one of the most anticipated films of the summer could live up to the expectations that have been created through the film industry, but Super 8 more than exceeds the hype.
(The usual spoiler warning... yeah yeah yeah. Though saying that, this time I'm not going to say much, because part of the film is a mystery and not knowing is what makes it so intense.)
Set in 1979, the story follows a group of children as they innocently try to film a low-budget zombie movie for a local competition. However, whilst at a late night shoot at an old railway station, our protagonist, 13 year old Joe sees a truck drive onto the tracks just as a freight train is going by, causing a massive derailment. Soon after, their little town in Ohio is plagued by inexplicable occurrences, such as disappearing people and dogs, as well as machinery going missing. The mysterious presence that has been released into the town has something to do with the crash, and footage from the kids' discarded camera at the scene may hold answers...
I have to say from the beginning that I found this film basically flawless, and that it is my favourite film of the year so far, so don't expect much criticism at all in this blog.
I think the main success of this film is down to its young actors. The performances are amazing, even more so when you realise that this the debut feature for most of them, and the chemistry between them is brilliant to watch - they spark off each other so naturally it's as though they really have been friends their whole lives. Particular highlights of the film are when we are merely observing their banter and the camaraderie between them. But what's really good about them is that they don't let us forget that they are young children, not big action heroes (at one point, Charles, the director of the would-be film, shouts out "I don't want to die!", something which you would of course expect a thirteen year old to say). They act like children, not adults, as is so often portrayed in modern cinema, and it's refreshing.
Another brilliant aspect of the film is that although it is essentially a sci-fi, there are moments of absolute humour that had the whole screen in stitches when I saw it. This is again down to the kids, who deliver the one-liners ("Drugs are SO bad!") so well that again we forget that they are just acting and we are not just watching a documentary about a day in the lives of some kids. The dialogue, even when it's not particularly trying to be funny, makes us laugh because of the time setting. Just saying "Mint!" takes us back to an earlier time and makes us smile. It's extraordinary.
I should also say that this is the most tense I have ever been in a film. The sense of anticipation and tension that builds up for the first two-thirds or so is surely down to the fact that although we see the destruction caused by this presence, it goes unseen for a long time, and when we first see it it's only glimpsed and out of focus. There are genuine moments where you forget to breathe because you are there in the action, with the kids, and you don't know what's coming either.
SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH! SKIP IF YOU WANT TO KEEP THE SUSPENSE WHEN YOU SEE IT.
The special effects in this film must too be applauded. It shows what surely must be the most detailed train crash in the history of film, one which lasts for minutes and literally leaves you breathless, as you too feel like you are running with the kids away from the carnage. There's also the "monster", which is one alien I approve of. It's not the sort of alien you often see in films nowadays, which just look like humans but green, or a little distorted. It doesn't look like anything I've ever seen, which gets a huge thumbs-up from me. But this also brings me to my one and only quibble: the eyes of the alien. I won't spoil it too much, but the eyes distract from what is otherwise one of the best aliens in recent cinema.
But it's the human moments that really make this film shine. As well as the humour that often occurs in the film, there are also genuinely sad bits that made me cry, such as when Elle Fanning's Alice and Joel Courtney's Joe have a conversation about the death of his mother and the neglect of her father. I even cried at the end, just because it was cathartic, and I haven't done that in a really long time. There's also the love-triangle between Joe, Alice and Charles ("Production value!"), which is just the right amount of angsty to be realistic for thirteen year old boys fighting over a girl. It's moments like this that make the film so special, and reflect real life enough to make you forget it's a sci-fi at times.
Verdict: In my opinion, it's the best film I've seen so far this year. I want to see it get Oscars. JJ Abrams is one of my new film heroes and, bearing in mind he wrote it, produced it and directed it, I want to see him get the acclaim he deserves and I look forward to seeing his future work. It's original, could not have been better executed, has a brilliant cast and crew, and outshines anything else this year so far. If you see one film this year, make sure it's this one.