(Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Amanda Michalka, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, et al / NR / 97 mins)
Overview: Writer/director J.J. Abrams teams with producer Steven Spielberg for this period sci-fi thriller set in the late '70s, and centering on a mysterious train crash in a small Ohio town. Summer, 1979: a group of young friends are filming a Super-8 movie when a pickup truck derails a speeding train. When the locals start to disappear and even the inquisitive deputy can't come up with answers, suspicions emerge that the incident was anything but an accident.
Verdict: Something — some thing — is terrifying the good folks of Lillian, Ohio, but what is it? A gas-station attendant, his face blanched with fear, sees it and screams; all we see is his body being jerked out of the frame. A telephone lineman on his crane hears it as a clattering clank of metal, like a clumsy heist at Home Depot; soon he's gone. But the creepiest hint that a nasty creature lurks in Lillian comes when 12-year-old Joe (Joel Courtney) posts a notice about his lost dog on a public bulletin board and the camera pulls back to reveal a hundred posters of missing pets. Who, or what, took the dogs out?
J.J. Abrams, writer and director of the scary, artful new thriller Super 8, is a hoarder of secrets, a master in the fine art of withholding information. Fans of Lost, the TV series he co-created, had to stick around six years for its mysteries to be revealed. "J.J. makes the audience wait for it," says Steven Spielberg, a producer and abettor of Super 8. With a conjurer's practiced blandness, Abrams simply says, "I believe in anything that will engage the audience and make the story more effective." But the man is no sadist. He, more than anyone, loves not knowing what comes next. As a boy, he bought a mystery box at a Manhattan magic store; now 44, he still has the box and still hasn't opened it.