Last week I was just scrolling through the internet, a bored millennial with ‘nothing’ to do, and I kept noticing that something called Stranger Things was being talked about all over the place. Stranger Things is the Netflix original sci-fi thriller that came out of nowhere and became popular over-night, as people binged all eight episodes as soon as they were available.
Set in 1983 in Hawkins, Indiana, a 12 year old boy named Will Byers vanishes. His mother becomes distraught while the chief-of-police Jim Hopper begins investigating the disappearance, as do Will’s friends Mike, Dustin and Lucas. They stumble upon a psychokinetic girl known as Eleven, as the government tries to cover it up, something else lurks around the fringes of the mystery.
After finishing the season, it is very clear why this show was so beloved by everyone. Stranger Things takes everything universally loved by television, film and the sci-fi/fantasy genre and presents it through the twenty-first century ‘Golden age of TV’ lens. Throughout the eight hours, flashes to movies such as E.T. and The Goonies will be hard to avoid as the show is entrenched in nostalgia, not just because of its 80’s setting, but the way it tells its story.
2016 has been a disappointing year for movies, huge blockbusters receiving middling to terrible reception and leaving audiences ‘wanting something original.’ What Stranger Things proves is that we do not want wholly original stories, we want familiar ones. The show does not deliver anything new, there are a few moments that annoyed me for being so clichéd, lines of dialogue I guessed before they were said, character actions that were choreographed minutes earlier. There are only so many times in one season of TV that characters will get in a car, turn the engine on, look back at the place they just left, grimace, turn off the car and go back into the situation they were trying to leave and Stranger Things has more than its fair share of these moments. It was weirdly infuriating. Also, if you know anything about movies and television, the jump scares are very obvious before they even happen.
That being said, the story is delivered in a wholly interesting and beautiful way. Any sequence centred on lights is enrapturing, combining delicate imagery with creepy, other-worldly themes. Being released on Netflix under the binge-viewing format keeps the momentum of the season going. Each episode does end on a cliff-hanger, but not on a huge, mind-blowing plot-point but more of an act break feel, giving you the impression that you are in the middle of an episode and want to continue immediately.
Winona Ryder stars as Will’s mother and she is sublime. We have seen the mother with a missing child before in many movies, but with the added science-fiction elements of the series, Ryder handles everything thrown at her with aplomb. The audience is on her side because we know she is right, but she doesn’t act crazier than anyone else would in her situation because she doesn’t chew the scenery, but plays eccentricity with unique restraint and awareness. Chief Jim Hopper is played by David Harbour, and while he is fuelled by drugs and alcohol and seems to not give a shit about anything, the moment he commits to finding Will, the way in which he injects intensity and care into his work, he clicks into another gear that wins over the audience. Even the main child actors are pretty good, outside of the expected little moments of awkwardness, and they are captivating and sell their chemistry in a natural way.
If you have heard about Stranger Things but haven’t given a go, I would recommend it. The eight episodes are very easy to get through and there is plenty to enjoy throughout the season. I finished it off in two days and it stuck with me for days afterwards.