Super 8

Super 8

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Before there were digital cameras, there was Super 8. Before there were twentysomething Cloverfield slackers, there were dorky kids catching something equally scary on tape in Super 8 the movie. And if you're one of those Abrams fans who has been looking forward to this film with childish excitement, you won't be disappointed.

In many ways a reimagining of - or sequel to - E.T., but far more terrifying than that suggests, Super 8 succeeds on almost every level. It has engaging characters, pitch perfect acting, visceral thrills, thoughtfully developed subplots, a sensitively developed romance and moments of real horror. There's nothing that quite pushes it over the boundary of its 12A certificate but more nervous children (and adults) would be well advised to stay away. Everybody else should go and see it as soon as possible.

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Joel Courtney (who bears a striking resemblance to E.T.'s Elliot) is Joe, a shy kid who has recently lost his mum. His best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) is a filmmaking fanatic who ropes their whole gang into his short zombie movie project. The team is complete with the arrival of Alice (Elle Fanning, who shows here that her riveting performance in The Door In The Floor, at the age of just four, was no fluke). Off they go, sneaking out at night to shoot a scene at their small rural railway station. It's by chance that they witness a horrific train crash, something that only gets worse when they realise it wasn't an accident - and worse still when it becomes apparent that something escaped from that train.

There is probably no director out there who is better than Abrams at making viewers feel the sheer physical impact of train carriages flying around. This sets the scene for a story that combines dramatic, shocking violence with nerve-jarring scenes of a much subtler sort. When one of the kids suggests the gang won't be harmed because of their age, we don't quite believe him. Joe's initial loss has already illustrated that suffering can happen at random. The kids are easy to identify with, whatever your age, and it's easy to plunge back into that perspective from which the whole world is confusing, often inexplicable, a difficult place in which to assert oneself. But the kids also have energy, humour and loyalty to one another, and they're willing to venture where adults fear to tread.

Joe and Alice want their fathers to show them affection; the adults struggle to acknowledge how much they depend on their kids; and the military, who should be protectors for everyone, have a curious relationship with the escaped monster. The B-movie plot is developed with a thoroughness and care that defies the usual limits of the genre. The ending is genuinely moving. Abrams has succeeded in creating a film that will become a landmark in the lives of its younger viewers. It's a work that really deserves the label Event Movie, because watching it for the first time is a pleasure you'll long to repeat.

Stay when the credits start to roll - there's still a short but sweet treat to come.

Reviewed on: 02 Aug 2011
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A train-wreck leads to an encroaching mystery.
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Stephen Carty ***1/2

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