Set in the late 70s, Super 8 is a gripping thriller from Lost creator JJ Abrams, that follows a bunch of school-going friends who accidentally capture footage of a major train crash while shooting a low-budget zombie film. Something escapes from the wrecked train, and pretty soon the army is crawling all over town. Then the plot goes all E.T. on us.
Its title referring to the old film format used by home-movie enthusiasts, this nostalgia-soaked adventure is evocative of the film’s producer Steven Spielberg’s early hits, particularly Close Encounters of the Third Kind, whose visual style it emulates. Like Gremlins and Goonies (which he also produced) and E.T. itself, Super 8 is above all things, a tale of youth and friendship. The kids here not only have a great sci-fi adventure to solve, but also tackle a heap of prickly emotional issues – everything from the death of a parent, to young love – that make the movie surprisingly heartfelt.
The three protagonists that stand out in the film are Riley Griffiths, who plays Charlie, the excitable director of this home-made movie; Joel Courtney as Joe, the make-up genius in this motley crew, who’s at odds with his cop father; and particularly Elle Fanning as the brazen school beauty who has her own domestic troubles. This young cast is the emotional core of Super 8, and the reason the film remains grounded even when the plot occasionally teeters on the brink of sheer cheesiness.
It’s a good old-fashioned entertainer that delivers nifty special effects and gimmicks, but doesn’t let them get in the way of a solid, moving story. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Super 8. Make sure you stay till the end credits for a clever surprise!