Stranger Things (2016)
Netflix / TV14
Drama / Horror / Mystery
Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard
Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
Netflix’s Stranger Things just screams 80’s nostalgia. Literally every single corner of the show is just dripping with love for the era. The show merges psychological thrills with horror, something that would fit perfectly in the 80s. There’s even influence from guy like John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King…in more ways than one. In its concise eight-episode season, Stranger Things manages to layer on depth with every episode, delivering one of the most intriguing and mysterious stories of the year.
Mystery begins upon the disappearance of a boy named Will (Noah Schnapp) after a night of Dungeon and Dragons with his friends. His friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are a group of AV-club misfits that gave me strong Goonies vibes. After the disappearance of her son Will, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) starts to go mad, calling upon the help of town sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) to help investigate the strange disappearance. It’s only a matter of time before shady government agencies and supernatural events start to make an appearance, cementing the fact that something deeper and more nefarious is taking ahold of the peaceful town.
Making matters more interesting, the boys stumble upon a peculiar girl, simply named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who seems to be the answer to everything that has been occurring. She’s scared and keeps to herself, but her powers go beyond all understanding. Her background is something of an enigma. Over the course of the show we get flashbacks to her past which involves a lot of lab experiments and a dark past.
The best part about Stranger Things is the layered story that it piles on every step of the way. The premiere episode is crazy by itself, but things take a plunge with each episode, whether it’s a new reveal or element key to the events taking place. The show goes places, for better or worse. Overall, the show does a good job at delivering a thrilling story but some of the supernatural elements are left out to dry with little explanation. The various characters give some convoluted clarifications towards the latter half of the story, but they don’t always feel satisfying. When I say the show goes places, it goes places. Sometimes you just have to suspend disbelief in order to fully enjoy the story. Despite this, the events wrap up brilliantly, yielding a satisfying conclusion, albeit a little predictable.
Winona Ryder is by far the stand out performance here. She plays a distressed mom that is crazy about finding her lost son. She starts off just like any other worried mom but as time goes on she plunges down a dark road of hysteria that involves talking to Christmas lights and putting holes through walls. It’s not a good look, but Ryder does a fantastic job at portraying all of these emotions. There’s also David Harbour’s performance as Sheriff Hopper. At first I wasn’t sold as he seemed like he didn’t really want to apart of what was happening, but when we discover his backstory, things start to fall into place his performance gets better with time. Even the child actors did a good job with their roles. With child actors, their performances can be hit or miss, but Bobby Brown, Wolfhard, Matarazzo, McLaughlin, and even Schnapp did really well. It’s also worth mentioning that Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), her boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), and Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) all did fine jobs as well.
The presentation elements of the show are what make Stranger Things so appealing. As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of nostalgia elements that give the show 80’s flair. The title screen is an obvious callback to Steven King’s novels, mimicking the same font and look of any of his titles. Jaws movie posters adorn the walls and songs like Toto’s “Africa” play in the background. Speaking of music, the show’s soundtrack is on point, all the time. The music is super synthy and the unnerving audio cues amp up the thrills. Stranger Things is an example of perfect sound design. Even the visual effects feel like they’re fresh out of the 80’s, which is good and bad. The monster animations are cheesy and strobe lights apparently mask some of the effects-heavy scenes. Perhaps it adds to the show’s character, but the effects feel out of place and kind of lazy in 2016.
What we have with Stranger Things is a love letter to shows of its ilk. The 80’s influence is real and ever present. The Duffer Brothers, directors of the show, have a great piece of television on their hands. There’s already been a lot of talk surrounding the show, which makes a second season a good possibility. I’m all for another trip back into Stranger Things but I don’t want the show to carry on past three seasons at most. There’s value to shorter and more concise TV shows that tell one-off stories. Stranger Things, which might be my favorite show of the year so far, has me dying to see more.