Eighth Grade on the surface is a slice-of-life drama/comedy about Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) going through her last week of Middle School before transitioning into High School but it is perhaps the greatest horror film of 2018. This is not to say it’s filled with the likes of vampires, bloody chest bursts or demons but rather because of how accurately it depicts the horrors of anxiety in a superfluous and shallow school environment. I found myself practically curling up into a ball or biting my clenched fist at how uncomfortably genuine and awkward so many scenes were. At the risk of sounding like an old crotchety man sitting on the porch; it really speaks to how guided by social media and false expectations many young people are nowadays. So many bits totally crept under my skin and I could see so much of myself as well as some of my friends in many scenes.
That’s not to say it’s all bleak and painfully real. Despite how sorry you feel for Kayla throughout the movie it’s Elsie Fishers’ phenomenal performance that is able to transform it from just being a pity-fest into a character you can relate to and root for. The raw, true performance she gives ensures you can’t help but be proud of her when she overcomes another hurdle. As a matter of fact, pretty much every performance is quite solid and Josh Hamilton as Kayla’s father is another exceptional addition. He’s so believable caring towards Kayla and exudes such genuine warmth. All the other kid actors were surprisingly consistently good but it really is the interactions between Josh and Elsie as father and daughter that are the clear standouts and make for the best scenes in the movie.
Anna Meredith’s score brings so much to the overall mood of the film too. She is able to totally elevate the smallest moments and just blast them through Kayla’s perspective so the audience can understand how truly grandiose these moments feel to her. It’s also how the score can make these imposing moments still sometimes feel quirky and not too overbearing by remaining fairly consistently bouncy and memorable. There’s one particular motif that’s repeated multiple times throughout that just burrowed into my ear and I found myself constantly listening to afterwards and humming during work.
Eighth Grade is Bo Burnham’s first feature although it’s not his first time directing. Burnham has had prior experience serving as the director on various comedy specials (including his own) and he translates these skills to the screen with such ease. It’s also his commitment to giving an accurate depiction of how people use technology that is another strong aspect of Eighth Grade. There are still the typical instances of children on their phones and ignoring their parents but there’s never any cynicism behind it. Burnham actually takes the time to show why the phone is so appealing to Kayla. There’s one particularly moving montage of Kayla simply skimming through Instagram on her phone while ‘Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)’ by Enya plays and it truly gives such a simple scene an almost spiritual feeling of escapism.
Eighth Grade is a personal film as well as fantastically introspective into the experience of growing up and coming out of your shell. So, it’s near criminal to see Bo Burnham miss out on a nomination for best original screenplay at the Oscars for his work here. Perhaps the relatability of the film won’t carry on to all age groups who see it, but regardless of if you’re a fan of Bo’s previous work, a newcomer to his or even if you were ever thirteen yourself and struggling to fit in; Eighth Grade is easily a must.
Promotional image obtained from: Sundance Institute (2018), Eighth Grade.
Retrieved from: https://www.sundance.org/projects/eighth-grade