Super 8 is a film about film: Not today's 3-D digital variety, but its ancestor, the 8mm film that led to a boom in home movies in the 1960s and 70s. This Spielberg-produced, J.J. Abrams directed thriller is a period piece set firmly in a bygone age: news heard on the radio (not the internet) tells us that Three Mile Island is in the midst of its 1979 meltdown; kids use walkie talkies, not cellphones, to communicate; and the only Walkman in town is looked upon as a novelty.
The action centers around Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his friends, a group of kids on bikes who seem ripped out of E.T. or The Goonies. Prepubescent Charles (Riley Griffiths), the filmmaker of the group, is hoping to enter his zombie movie into a Super 8 film festival in Cincinnati. His group of youthful actors and crew witness a high-speed crash while shooting a scene at a train station; like Antonioni's Blow Up, something suspicious is caught on camera. Soon after, the military arrive in town with an air of 'nothing-to-see-here' evasiveness.
What the military don't want the residents of Lillian, Ohio, to see, is–well, you'll have to find out for yourself. As action unspools on multiple levels, including old Super 8 footage, the real state of affairs becomes clear. There's a good reason why the sheriff is nowhere in sight.
Humor comes courtesy of Cary (Ryan Lee), a braces-burdened kid with a prediliction for pyromania, and Donny (David Gallagher) the town stoner who perpetually misses the action, as well as plenty of Back To The Future-esque nods from 2011 to the technology-deficient 70s.
What lets this otherwise successful venture into the past down is the finale. It's all too swiftly dispatched, and the last-minute ladle of schmaltz is unnecessary. Stick around for the credits, though, if only to see nascent director Charles channel some serious Hitchcock.
Dir: J.J. Abrams. 112 mins. Rated PG-13. Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, David Gallagher, Ryan Lee, Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney.
Super 8 opens June 10; for movie times in Sherman Oaks, click here.