Imagination key to horror in Super 8

Super 8 is a movie produced by Steven Spielberg, a fact that becomes very apparent, very quickly. His fingerprints are all over this thing, and that’s a good thing — the initial suspense and overall nostalgia more than makes an impact before writer-director J.J. Abrams goes crazy with both boyish enthusiasm and a biggie size budget.

Gabriel Basso plays Martin

Super 8 is a movie produced by Steven Spielberg, a fact that becomes very apparent, very quickly. His fingerprints are all over this thing, and that’s a good thing — the initial suspense and overall nostalgia more than makes an impact before writer-director J.J. Abrams goes crazy with both boyish enthusiasm and a biggie size budget.

A tale about small-town adolescence and mysterious space aliens — which, in this case, is an awfully good fit — Super 8 carries the vibe of projects ranging from Stand By Me to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. True, Abrams dabbles in Independence Day on the home stretch but by that point, this is a likable enough flick that it’s easy to forgive such atrocities.

Such a young cast carrying the weight of a rather hefty blockbuster is a rarity and — in one of the more refreshing happenings so far this summer — they carry it extremely well. Joel Courtney plays a shy kid who just lost his mom and whose dad, the local deputy (Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights) is ill prepared emotionally to play the role of single parent. So Courtney escapes reality by filming zombie movies with his buddies (Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso and Riley Griffiths). One hush-hush night shoot at an out-of-the-way train station requires a fresh face,  so they draft Elle Fanning and Courtney develops an instant crush.

Oh, speaking of crush … that train station? When a speeding locomotive meets a truck on the tracks, the station is pretty much flattened by the horrific wreck that follows. The kids narrowly escape meeting the same fate. But it’s what happens in the aftermath of the disaster that fuels the rest of Super 8; something escapes from the demolished cars. And unlike previous Spielberg-inspired creatures, this one is sucking up more than Reese’s Pieces; it has a thirst for pets, car batteries and a few unlucky townsfolk.

I’ll give credit to Abrams. Yes, he slightly taints Super 8 with an unoriginal cop-out of a wrap-up. But before it gets to that, he takes a lesson from his producer. Much like Speilberg’s Jaws, the monster in Super 8 is largely in the shadows for much of the film’s run. And that’s when a beauty like this works best; when our imagination is permitted to frighten us more than any director ever could. Why, so effective is Super 8 at drawing us in on the suspense front, you could even file it under the ‘they-don’t-make-‘em-like-this-anymore’ category.

Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give Super 8 a three and a half. The feature is currently playing at the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre in Penticton.

Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living in the Okanagan.