“Maybe Will saw something he shouldn’t have.” – Stranger Things Review

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If you haven’t watched this show, I suggest you do.  Because it’s awesome.  Seriously…GO AND WATCH THIS SHOW.

Stranger Things is a TV series that naturally ticks all the boxes.  If you were born or grew up in the 80s, it certainly strikes a chord.

Here’s my ONE and ONLY negative about the series – there’s nothing original about it!  But as I’ve said in the past, sci-fi as a genre is heavily borrowed.  The question is, how do you differentiate yourself so it feels unique and compelling?  Stranger Things answers that question by bringing you eight episodes of fun, scares, mystery and adventure that makes you wish you was a kid again.  I was totally gripped throughout.

It’s very high on the nostalgia, a love letter to all things 80s that we love and remember.  Every single frame is heavily influenced by the films and pop culture of that decade.  Stranger Things borrows concepts and ideas from:

  • The Goonies
  • Alien
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
  • Poltergeist
  • The Thing
  • Stephen King novels/films – Stand By Me, Firestarter and IT

But it’s also inspired by modern-day references such as The X-Files and Super 8.  But Stranger Things goes a step better than Super 8.  In my opinion, Super 8 didn’t have the final pay-off that it deserved from all its intricate build up.  It reminded you so much of Spielberg’s classic films that you would rather watch that instead.  Stranger Things may have its influences but it sets itself apart with a story that is evenly paced, each episode makes you excited to see the next and delivers a dramatic conclusion that has an open-ended mystery that continues the influential legacy from The X-Files.

In a modern world dominated by technology and social media, Stranger Things is a healthy dose of sentimental throwback to a simpler and bygone era.  If it’s not just the film references, it’s the small details that make it appealing.  The title font and credits is Stephen King territory, right down to the VHS grain and scratches.  The synth music is very John Carpenter, reminiscent of films like The Thing, Escape from New York and Assault on Precinct 13.  It celebrates childhood innocence in the form of Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Will (Noah Schnapp) riding their bikes, walkie talkies and playing Dungeons and Dragons.  Even the family dog is an 80s dog!  These are things that have become synonymous  of American life in that decade, in particular in the movies.  Stranger Things reintroduced the concept of family and friendship – the perfect bubble before something strange invades their tranquillity and neighbourhood.  However, there’s no “E.T. phone home” charm moment.  Stranger Things is in the mould of a classic sci-fi horror, a more adult version of The Goonies.  It’s not afraid of pulling out the scares with the kids centre and heart of the mystery.

The most impressive about Stranger Things is the cast.  With exception of Winona Ryder and David Harbour, there’s no big names to distract you.  Everyone is a natural part of the story and each episode draws you into their lives and how the strange disappearance of Will Byers affects the community of Hawkins, Indiana.  Another impressive thing – every character has a natural arc.  They grow and develop which is expectant as the story delves deep into the mystery.

Mike, Lucas and Dustin are loveable and endearing.  They are smart, nerdy kids who love their comic books, their science fiction and fantasy novels, pictures and board games.  They casually throw geek references to each other on The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Empire Strikes Back.  They hang out together as if they were in the Fellowship of the Ring.  But there is a point to the references because they serve as a mirror image to their challenges.  It’s their experience and knowledge that not only identifies with us geeks today but it also helps them to understand the mystery of what happened to their friend.  When they encounter Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), their investigation takes a darker turn and tests their friendship.

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Eleven is a key part of Stranger Things.  It’s her story as well as about the disappearance of Will Byers.  Every episode is a small insight into her life where she has suffered nothing but pain and distraught as part of a government experiment conducted by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine).  Her creation into the program brings a real world context to the series in a Cold War battle between the Americans and the Russians.  She provides an advantage.  However, the experience has left her monosyllabic and it’s Mike who takes the greatest sympathy (and crush) on her.  From her buzz cut haircut and her natural yet alien curiosity of her surroundings, Eleven is a powerful weapon who doesn’t realise the full potential of her powers.  That’s another interesting aspect about her character.  There’s always a sense of danger with her.  The whole plot scenario is dangerous.  You can’t rest easy.  It raises further questions about her nature and the program itself.  For example, her character is Eleven – was there a one to ten?  It has a healthy set of cliffhangers  and government cover-ups and that’s what makes it thrilling to watch and Millie Bobby Brown a star performer.

Another star performer belongs to Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, Will’s mother.  Her performance is emotionally charged and frantic.  At first it’s just about her missing son and all the natural concerns a parent would have.  But when she starts to experience strange things in her house relating to her missing son, she embraces a paranoia fear of something other worldly – think Richard Dreyfuss from Close Encounters.  It becomes an obsession.  Of course, her behaviour is not popular – the townsfolk and that includes her eldest son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), don’t believe her.  They think she’s refusing to accept reality.  But when incidents start to affect other people like Mike’s sister, Nancy and her best friend (chicks before dicks Nancy), suddenly everybody has a story to tell and it’s not a coincidence.

So what exactly is haunting the residents of Hawkins?  A predatory monster.

The great thing about the creature is its existence.  It’s completely unnatural and unnerving, reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro‘s Pan’s Labyrinth and the monster from Cloverfield.  It exists in a world where it’s dark and creepy, enough to make a horror aficionado uncomfortable.  It doesn’t have a name and hunts on animal instincts.  Stranger Things could easily have gone down the alien/UFO route but suggests something much closer to home.

That swiftly brings about how the series concludes.  Not everything is neatly wrapped up.  There’s still questions to be asked and whilst there’s a strong feeling that Stranger Things will come back for a second series, if this was a self-contained mystery, then it certainly paid its tribute to classic horror endings.  I like the idea that it’s ambiguous and unresolved and that the audience can go away wondering all the possibilities and repercussions.

To conclude, Stranger Things is a blast, thanks to its strong storytelling and high production values.  It’s one of the best things on Netflix at the moment and certainly one of the best TV shows of the year.  At eight episodes you can easily binge watch it with no problem whatsoever.

It’s a reflective piece of drama that will make you feel proud.    It never abandons its childlike wonder but has enough tease to pull you into the heart of the mystery.  It will leave you on the edge of your seat and certainly in my case, I could easily watch it all over again.

Worthy of my highest recommendation?  Absolutely.  Get that Netflix account and watch it!

Author: Kelechi Ehenulo

Creator and writer of Confessions From A Geek Mind. Loves sci-fi and LEGO - couldn't ask for a better combo!

2 thoughts

  1. One thing about Super8 is that the characters weren’t that memorable or likeable for me. I really like the kid characters in Stranger Things and the acting is good. I also like that it’s an 8 episode series. It’s easy to binge and the writers didn’t stretch the story out too long. The feel and tone is well done too. Good review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I liked Super 8 to a point. The characters were ok but were definitely the strongest aspect of the film in my eyes. But when the plot went from alien/creature let loose in the town, kidnapping people to suddenly change to “oh it wants to go home” like some E.T. complex, I felt a bit cheated. It made no sense! I mean, what was it going to do with all those kidnapped people? Were they snacks for the trip home? In the end, however nostalgic Super 8 represented, all it did was remind me how good Spielberg was back in the day. At least Stranger Things keeps things consistent and what you get is 8 hours of pure joy with some great acting. The creature is what it is and you can’t reason with it! I love that.

      Like

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