Original Publish Date: August 5, 2016
Sometimes, like a Christmas miracle, something comes into your life at just the right time to lift your spirits and your hope in humanity. As the giant horror fan, this show was the show I needed but didn’t know I wanted. Put on those nostalgia googles and prepare for the decade of hairspray, metal, and some of the best horror films ever made, and enjoy this gift from our benevolent Netflix overlords.
Let’s take a look at Stranger Things.
Will Byers, a middle schooler in suburban Indiana in 1983, mysteriously goes missing after a long session of Dungeons and Dragons, but he’s not exactly gone. When he disappears, a mysterious girl escapes a dark scientific facility using her psychic powers. As more people begin disappearing, and more and more people see mysterious phenomena, Will’s friends Mike, Lucas, Dustin team up with the girl, Eleven, to try and get their friend back. There’s a lot more involved in the plot, but the less said, the better. It is a show that is best experienced go without any prior knowledge.
If you are someone who is apprehensive about the horror aspects of this show, I will not deny that they exist. What I would say instead say that overall it is pretty mild, though if you don’t like body horror or light gore (and I’m talking like broken arms, a nose bleed, or a bug coming out of someone’s mouth) it might be more difficult. The monster (and there is a monster) is a bit terrifying to look at, more Alien than Babadook, and but we don’t see it very often, to the benefit of the story.
The acting is strong overall. Having a show wherein child actors comprise half of the narrative is always a risk, but goodness do these kids all shine. Millie Bobby Brown’s performance as Eleven is stellar — her heroism, her fear, and her power and there’s a reason she’s a fan favorite. I’m excited to see what happens next in her career, she is definitely one to watch. Finn Wolfhard makes an excellent protagonist as Mike Wheeler, who discovers Eleven and is the most heartbroken when things fall apart. For the older set of the cast, Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler is an excellent portrayal of a teen girl dealing with the oncoming freight train that is adulthood, Joe Keery is a tonally perfect kind-of-a-jerk-but-actually-sweet boyfriend Steve, and Charlie Heaton as Will’s older brother Jonathan is so well done, it’s almost believable that he is a latch-key kid trying to figure out what to do with himself in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.
Winona Ryder rises out of the depth of Hollywood obscurity to make a surprising turn as Will’s mother. She plays a desperate single mom mourning the loss of her son, trying to keep it together as she finds that her son might not be gone. I will say that I am not as fond of David Harbour, who played Chief Jim Hopper, who swings between too aggressive and too soft, never landing in just the right spot. The Wheeler parents are hilarious in their obliviousness, though Cara Buono as the matriarch of the family does have some excellent moments with Nancy and Mike.
The action is fast moving and well directed, and the dialogue is sharp and emotional, giving all of the actors plenty of material to really shine. The music in this show is beyond excellent, one of the single best aspects of the entire production. The sound design goes hand-in-hand with the cinematography to make the world feel like the 1980s. It is so popular, they are releasing a soundtrack just because the fans couldn’t stop raving about it. The special effects of the monster are excellent, and the Upside Down is fantastically designed to look familiar and horribly alien at the same time. The aesthetic — the clothes, the hair, the environments, even little details like the dishware — is a perfect match for the decade.
What can say other than Stranger Things is a show that is made for pop culture critics like me. It uses nostalgia not as an excuse to be subpar or as a way to bank on being liked but as a way of elevated the ambiance and style. It’s like Stephen King and Steven Spielberg had a beautiful brain child and it flourished into a perfect example of all things wonderful about small town horror. 8 episodes are both perfect and not enough time to spend in this world. May it get a second season, for the love of all good things in this world.
Rating: 5/5 stars