Super 8 emanates the style of Steven Spielberg at every frame, and yet, the renowned director is not responsible for writing or directing the film, but instead took on the responsibility of producer (often times a more arduous task). The story takes place in 1979 Ohio (a terrible time and place to be, but I suppose, for the sake of Super 8 film being in prevalent use, this is important to how everything plays out) and follows the events surrounding the making of 13-year-old Charles Kaznyk's (Riley Griffiths) zombie movie. Charles, however, is not the hero of Super 8 by any stretch of the imagination. That title is reserved especially for Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), whose mother died just four months prior to the time when the strange goings-on started in happening in their small town of Lillian.
For anyone familiar with the Spielberg pastiche, the similarities that Abrams' style bears in Super 8 are unequivocal. Not just in terms of visual approach is Abrams emulating the work of Spielberg, but also in the somewhat lachrymose nature of Super 8. Because, pretty much anytime a group of children with absentee parents are featured in a movie, you're going to end up shedding a tear.
Elle Fanning (luckily shirking the association she has with Sofia Coppola's Somewhere) as Alice Dainard finally gets a real chance to shine as a viable leading actress (Dakota better watch the fuck out). Her dynamic with the other boys in the group is actually, dare I say, very reminiscent of Joey Potter in Dawson's Creek (and we all know how much Dawson loves Steven Spielberg). Her connection to Joe is at first nebulous, but we later learn that her father, Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard), was supposed to take the shift at the factory where Joe's mother also worked--the shift that resulted in the accident that would cause her death.
In spite of this rather awkward fact, Joe and Alice do not seem to have a problem working with one another on Charles' movie. It is while they are filming at a train depot that the group witnesses a train being deliberately derailed by a biology teacher, Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), from their school. In one of the most nerve-racking scenes since Ross and Rachel finally got together (in Season 10, not Season 2), Charles, Joe, Alice, Martin (Gabriel Basso), Preston (Zach Mills), and Carey (Ryan Lee) run for their lives as the innards of the train explode in every direction.
When they all reunite in the wreckage, they see Dr. Woodward slumped over in his truck. They pry a paper with a detailed map of the train route from his hands, after which he awakens and gives them a disturbing warning about not telling anyone about what they have seen. From then on, the Air Force infiltrates the town, refusing to tell police personnel, including Joe's father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), any concrete information about the crash (though we get the immediate sense that something really fucking sinister was in the train).
What is possibly the most ingenious element about Super 8 is holding off for most of the second act on showing the alien that emerged from the train. While Abrams is not the first to employ this suspense building tactic (it failed miserably in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs), he uses it so effectively that it renders the prospect of seeing the alien more terrifying than seeing it.
And so, if you're craving a movie with the same basic components of E.T. (except creepier), Super 8 is the movie for you. Based on that comparison alone, here's hoping for more future collaborations between Abrams and Spielberg.