This came out in 2011. I started watching it for the first time on a used DVD in 2014, but the DVD started skipping about half way through the movie, so I didn't get to finish it. Eventually I got a new DVD, and finally watched the whole movie in 2017. And as annoying as the wait was, it was worth it. I suppose I should mention that the movie was written, directed, and co-produced by J.J. Abrams. And one of the other producers was Steven Spielberg. Also I should say that I am putting this review in my science fiction section, but also linking to it from my scary movies section. Although honestly, there are probably other sections that would be as apt or maybe even apter, like "coming of age" or "period pieces."
So, it's set in 1979. There's a 14-year-old boy named Joe Lamb, whose mother died shortly before the film begins. His father, Jack, is a deputy sheriff in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. (Jack is played by Kyle Chandler, whom I seem to be incapable of differentiating from Eric Close.) While some folks are gathered at the Lamb house after the funeral, a man named Louis Dainard shows up to pay his respects, but for a reason that won't be revealed until much later, Jack immediately drags him out of the house and takes him away in his police car, while Joe watches.
The movie then flashes forward four months, to Joe and his friends getting out of school for the summer. His friend Charles is writing and directing an amateur zombie movie, which he's shooting on super 8 film. Joe is the makeup artist, and... there are a few other kids who I don't really feel the need to mention by name. Anyway, Charles has decided to get a girl named Alice (Elle Fanning) involved in his film, playing the wife of a detective who's been investigating the zombie murders. It's immediately obvious, even before we meet Alice, that Joe has a crush on her. And... she "borrows" her dad's car, to drive Charles's team to a train station where they'll be filming a scene, late at night. Of course she's too young to drive, and at first she's distressed to learn that a deputy's son is part of the film crew. But I sort of feel like that whole thing was almost more about the car itself, because it's obviously the same car Louis had driven to Joe's mother's wake. Because he's Alice's father.
But anyway... while filming their scene, a train passes by, and a pickup drives onto the tracks, which somehow causes the train to derail in a pretty massive way. The kids all survive all the ensuing explosions and flying debris and whatnot, and subsequently find the driver of the truck, a biology teacher named Dr. Woodward, who has barely survived. He warns them not to talk to anyone about what they've seen. Then the military shows up, and the kids leave in a hurry. Later, strange things start happening around town, and the sheriff disappears, which leaves Jack in charge of the police department. And he is very suspicious of the Air Force personnel who have suddenly shown up to deal with the train wreckage.
Beyond that... I guess I don't want to spoil anything. There's a lot of drama, what with Joe and Jack each dealing with the loss of Joe's mom/Jack's wife in their own ways, and the two of them having a strained relationship, and Joe dealing with his secret crush on Alice, and some strain in Joe's friendship with Charles, and, you know, everyone dealing with whatever the hell's going on in town. Well, I suppose I'm not giving too much away by saying that there's an alien creature involved. (Though it's quite awhile before we really get a good look at it.) Also I want to say the whole movie is kind of nostalgic, intentionally, for the era when J.J. Abrams was growing up and first getting interested in film-making. And there's some humor in the movie. And I'm not sure what else to say. Oh, right... we do eventually learn why Jack was so mad at Louis. And yet... well, I don't want to spoil that, except to say that there were some things about Louis that turned out to be... not quite what I would have expected. Which is actually kind of refreshing, in comparison to the cliches that could easily have been used. Although the way the main story with the alien ends is maybe a bit cliched and underwhelming, it's not bad.
Anyway, um... it's a decent movie. And I should mention that during the closing credits, we get to see Charles's zombie film, which I think is pretty good.