In my long, super-great career, I’ve worked on films in every conceivable genre. Horror, comedy, drama, sci-fi, romance, Oscar bait… I’ve done it all. But what I enjoy making most are films of the Good Movie genre. I used to make a lot of Good Movie movies back when you were kids but haven’t been making as many now that you’re all adults.
Well, just for kicks I decided to look backward and give all you grown up kids another dose of Sam Strange Good Film. It’s been a while since I stood on this particular dance floor, but I’m confident I still know all the steps. Let’s see… it requires suburbia, kids who curse, single parents, some supernatural element, wonder & awe, and since those films took place in the late 1970s-early1980s, I guess this one will, too.
Super 8 is all about this troubled kid named Joel (played by Patrick Fugit’s little brother Nougat Fugit). Joel used to be a general innocent Americana type kid, all fishing and football and model kits, but the recent death of his mother affected the cheerful brightness of his outlook. Though he’s still a good, smart kid, he’s traded his boy scout pals for a group of rag-tag filmmaking buddies working on a zombie film.
His dad, who isn’t over the accidental death either, doesn’t understand his son’s new friends, and instead of mourning together, the two are growing apart. He wants his old son back, yet he also understand that healing takes time. For this reason, he never asks his son to give up carrying his mother’s locket, even after four months of slightly unhealthy clinging to this totem of her memory.
Joel’s film crew consists of a fat director struggling for parental attention in a family overcrowded with screaming children. The main zombie actor is a kid with no parents at all who expresses himself via pyromania. There are also two others. One of them wears glasses, I think. These are rough kids. They curse, blow things up, steal, and smoke cigarettes. On top of that, they’re making a film filled with gleefully bloody carnage.
One night while filming at a train station, two miraculous things happen that change Joel’s life forever. For one, he meets Alice (played by Lindsay Lohan’s little sister Roxy), the gang’s new actress. Joel knows Alice but has never had the courage to speak to her before. Alice aligns herself nicely with Joel’s old and new mindsets. She’s innocent, smart, and beautiful, but she also peels into the shoot location in her father’s stolen muscle car despite her lack of driver’s license or acceptable driver’s age.
There’s more to Alice than that, though. Her mother is dead, too, so she and Joel are kindred spirits in that regard. But uniting them even further is the fact that her sad, drunken father and Joel’s mother worked at the same factory, and she died working his alcohol-caused missed shift, making him implicitly responsible for her death. Joel has instant feelings for Alice, and she for him, but their unfortunate family connection poses a problem.
On top of all that, the gang witnesses a massive train wreck while filming. After barely escaping with their lives, they discover their science teacher, of all people, bleeding in a mangled truck. He tells them he purposefully caused the wreck and they must go before “they” show up. When they hesitate, he pulls a gun. The group takes off but not before Joel pockets one of many spilled all-white Rubik’s cubes. Just as they leave, a bunch of army guys show up.
A lot of things happen the next day. The fat filmmaker kid goes to get last night’s footage developed. Joel and Alice both get in trouble with their respective fathers for hanging out with each other. Meanwhile, the town discovers something has stolen nearly all their electronic appliances and all their dogs have run away. On top of that, people are beginning to disappear including the town’s sheriff. Because Joel’s father is the town’s number two cop, he is now far too swamped to sufficiently watch over Joel.
Joel and his friends have some idea what’s up, but they’re too afraid of the town’s sudden military presence to say anything. Joel and Alice, however, begin investigating the remarkable cube, which has changed shape overnight and rumbles at random intervals. While looking at the cube, Alice accidentally turns on a Super 8 film projector Joel had loaded with home movies of his mother. She needlessly apologizes for her father, and the two decide to visit Joel’s mother’s grave. There, they notice a large shack shaking violently. They check it out and find a gigantic hole inside.
The next day, Joel gets a call from the fat kid begging him to come over. Together they watch the Super 8 footage of the wreck which culminates with the blurred but unmistakable footage of a large monster exiting the wreckage. Then the fat kid reveals to Joel that he is gay. After that, they show the footage to Joel’s dad.
Tensions between the town and the invading military presence are coming to a head. Everyone’s pissed about their missing stuff, scared about their missing people, and angry that army dudes are telling them what to do. All of this tension rests on the shoulders of Joel’s father, and when he sees the footage of the monster, he begins to develop a plan. But just then, the army begins forcefully evacuating the town and chaos erupts.
Joel’s dad demands Joel evacuate with everyone else, but Joel refuses. They have a big fight and he runs off in search of Alice, who he finds waiting in his bedroom. She also just had a horrible fight with her father. As they talk this over, Joel’s Rubik’s cube begins to act more strange than normal, emitting a high-pitched hum and floating through the air, beckoning them to follow.
By this time most of the city has been evacuated and tanks are rolling through town. As Joel and Alice follow the cube, they have to be careful not to be seen. They run into the fat kid and the pyromaniac kid on their way. Joel realizes the cube is taking them to the shack at the cemetery, but to get there, they must pass through an open field, making them vulnerable to army guy eyes. The pyromaniac kid and the fat kid decide to hang back and light some fireworks as a diversion, allowing Joel and Alice access to the shed where they are promptly grabbed by the monster and taken underground.
This is the first time we get to see the monster. It has four arms and a grey face with big, watery eyes and a mouth capable of both sneers and smiles. It’s also covered with feathers. It is both monstrous and incredibly vulnerable.
Meanwhile at the shanty town erected for evacuees, Joel’s dad dresses like an army dude and begins sneaking around showing key people the Super 8 footage while gathering a resistance force. As this goes on, he sees the fat kid and the pyromaniac kid arrive in handcuffs and asks what happened. Next thing he knows, he’s approaching Alice’s father to bury the hatchet and find their kids.
Underground, Alice and Joel fear for their lives. The monster has all the towns missing electronics stacked together into some sort of machine. Additionally, all the missing town people are hanging upside down in some sort of stasis. The cube flies from Joel and rests itself inside a computer device. Then the monster approaches the children and, instead of eating them, gently touches their heads.
He cannot speak, but they see his story in their minds. The monster is not a monster at all but an alien. Long ago he landed here and was immediately seized by the military, which included their science teacher at the time. For years, they did experiments on him and imprisoned him. All he wanted was to go back home where his alien mother was waiting. By now she probably assumed he was dead. All he wants is to get his ship back together. The people he abducted are supplying harmless power. He needs the remaining Rubik’s cubes. He knows Joel and Alice are good because of data he gathered from Joel’s stolen cube. Will they help him?
At the camp, Joel’s dad puts his plan into effect. A bunch of towns people gather in one room to watch the fat kid’s still-unfinished Super 8 film. While all the military personnel laugh at the kid’s amateur film, Joel’s dad and several others sneak into an armored truck. Back in town, all the army’s electrical equipment has gone haywire. Most of it is just firing at the sky, and the place is like a weird war zone. Instead of finding their children, their children find them. They are riding on the alien’s back as it gallops toward the army base.
The army guys see this and try to shoot the creature, but Joel’s dad and the other escaped townspeople stop them by walking in front of their guns. The main army guy considers shooting through them, but Joel’s dad simply punches him in the face, ending the conflict.
The alien finds his cache of Rubik’s cubes which immediately form a spaceship around him. It also collects all the metal in the vicinity, including Joel’s locket. Joel refuses to let it go, however, until the alien begs telepathically, not just with words, but with images of his mother waiting for him on some distant planet. Joel realizes how selfish he’s been and finally let’s the locket go.
With that, the alien’s ship is complete. The entire town, army guys included, stop what they’re doing to just stare at the sky, their mouths open in childlike awe. The spaceship rises, turns into a lens flare, and disappears forever.
Months later, Joel and Alice are still in love. Their fathers are friends now, too. The whole town lines up at the local theatre to catch a matinee of the fat kid’s finished zombie film, Super 8.