In an idealic town in a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone, a strange incident starts a chain of events that ultimately lead to a child going missing. This ruptures the heart of the community, thus turning friends against each other. Dark government agencies and evil supernatural creatures make haste on the town of Hawkins while a few members of the community begin work a case, to find out what’s going on. But they soon see this isn’t your textbook missing persons investigation. It doesn’t take genius to see that the Duffer Brothers have paid much homage to the likes of Steven Spielberg (ET, Jurassic Park) and Stephen King (Carrie, It) in their new psychological thriller, sci-fi drama. Well, stranger things have happened, that much is certain. Stranger Things isn’t that scary, it more makes you say “oh, well that’s fucked up”. It’s more along the lines of not being scared, but weirded out.
It’s certainly a very 80s drama. It’s a supernatural drama which I’d go as far to say should be a rites of passage television show, it will be a future classic for sure. So, on the day of its release, I was scouring my Facebook timeline and it seemed I had been spammed by an influx of “Watching Stranger Things” posts. In my curiosity, I gave in to the hype. I embarked on this show some days later. I’m a nineties kid but I grew up watching 80s shows and movies, and the nostalgia is strong with this one. It’s a satisfying tale that pays homage to Stephen King but even to David Finch’s Twin Peaks with many references to Star Wars and The Hobbit’s Mirkwood; laced with mystery and weirdness but also sturdy performances from its young actors as well as David Harbour (Black Mass) as Police Chief Jim Hopper and a great comeback from Winona Ryder (Star Trek, Black Swan) as Joyce Byers.
Set in a small town in 1983, the show begins with an escape from a fortified research facility, unleashing some sort of creature that kidnaps Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), biking home alone after a great campaign of Dungeons & Dragons with his geeky friends: Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard). Most of the community are certain Will is dead but Joyce (Winona Rhyder) his mentally unhinged mother, becomes convinced that she’s able to communicate with Will in ways that make her look like a crazy person.
Grieving for his own daughter and covering his own loss with alcohol, Hopper (Harbour) becomes a useful tool in finding Will. At the same time, Will’s best friends are hellbent on finding him when they find a girl with a shaved head who goes by the name of Eleven, (Millie Brown) with powers that would grant her certain access to Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters. Another interested party is Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), AKA Will’s brother who comes hand-in-hand with Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) as well as the show’s bad guy, Dr Brenner (Matthew Modine).
One of the winners of this show is that it allows viewers to get excited over shared frames of references in popular culture as well as the “shockers” that crop up throughout the season in the unravelling of events. I’m not really a fan of the horror/psychological thriller genre but Stranger Things is one of the good ones. I tend to find horror, unscary or outright boring. Things like Crimson Peak and The Witch have been great but then I find things like Insidious and The Conjuring tedious, though Stephen King’s The Shining is first class, whilst Hitchcock’s Psycho is in my all time top ten movies. I felt the main title of Stranger Things to be uncanny to the motel insignia in Psycho, lit up and all. Another good point to the series is that it builds tension and suspense purely from the acting performances from its cast but also effortlessly creating a set that isn’t CGI-heavy. It has minimalist production design. In this case, less is more.
The writers have written characters that you care about. You care if they get hurt in this series. They’ve been cast superbly well, especially with Eleven (Brown) and she turned out to be my favourite character throughout. She has few lines but her acting performance excels from her presence and her physical actions. When I look at Dustin, I can’t help but think “Ash Ketchum” with that hat, though he has fewer teeth than our favourite Pokémon trainer. One of the most annoying characters is Nancy as she kept making dumb choices and being taken in by her not-boyfriend but boyfriend’s antics and pleas for attention. As the season goes on, she grew on me because she cut him loose and made decisions for herself.
Stranger Things is a weird one but it works. I expected not to like it. It seemed too quirky and weird for me but I ended up really liking it, with its: crime, fantastical and supernatural elements being reminiscent of King and Fincher. The crime elements were very Twin Peaks with the high school scenes reminding me of Carrie. I was born in nineties but grew up in the noughties. It’s an amazing concoction of sci-fi, horror, fantasy, crime and mystery with a Netflix do over.
Well, stranger things have happened