Horror / Science Fiction
 

Stranger Things

Aired On: Netflix


Reviewed by Melissa Minners

 

                I had heard interesting things from my friends about a new Netflix television series entitled Stranger Things, but never watched it.  Then I received a soundtrack for the series…and then a Volume 2 soundtrack.  One day, I took a look at Netflix with the intent of watching a movie and was surprised to see that Netflix had recommend I watch Stranger Things.  I saw it as fate and after the first episode, I found myself hooked.

                Set in the 1980s in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, Stranger Things revolves around a group of young boys seen in the neighborhood as geeks and nerds.  Heavily into electronics, science fiction and fantasy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) spend hours in Mike’s basement acting out Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.  On one such night, after losing the campaign to a dangerous monster, the group heads home, splitting up.  Will comes across something scary in the woods and it follows him home.  The next day, Will is gone.

                Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and her son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are beside themselves with worry.  After checking in with all of Will’s friends, Joyce, a single mother with a fragile emotional state, heads over to the local police station to enlist the aid of Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour).  An alcoholic and drug addict since the death of his young daughter, Hopper is not exactly impressed with the story of Will’s disappearance until he starts looking into it and things don’t add up.

                Meanwhile, a young girl in a hospital gown (Millie Bobby Brown) makes her way to a local diner where she experiences kindness at the hands of the owner who feeds her and tries to help.  His single act of calling Child Services for the girl ends in his murder as there are some rather scary individuals searching for the girl.  She stumbles upon Mike, Dustin and Lucas as they search for Will.  Eleven, as the girl is called, claims to know where Will is, but the boys remain somewhat skeptical, especially when a body turns up and is identified as Will Byers.

                Most of the town believes the boy is dead, but Joyce insists she has talked to him…through the use of Christmas lights.  Will’s friends believe he is dead until Eleven finds a way to prove that he isn’t thanks to some rather special abilities she possesses.  And all the while, something is lurking in the woods…something scary that needs to feed…and people keep disappearing, including Nancy Wheeler’s (Natalia Dyer) best friend Barb (Shannon Purser).  What is this thing and what does it have to do with Will Byers’ disappearance?  And why is a group of scientists so interested in Eleven’s whereabouts?

                Stranger Things is a science fiction horror series that pays homage to some of the best horror and sci-fi films of the 80s.  The kids being tormented by a monster and going on an epic journey to save the town from this thing is reminiscent of Stephen King’s earlier works like It and Stand By Me (otherwise known as The Body).  The musical score of the series is very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s scores for films like Halloween, The Fog and Christine (which also happens to be a Stephen King tale featuring teenagers against a demonic car and its possessed teenage driver).  The series also contains references to 80s pop culture with posters and comments about such notable films as the original Star Wars trilogy, Jaws (even the police uniforms are the same as those in Jaws and a Jaws poster can be seen on the wall in headquarters), The Thing and more.

                The younger kids in the series are absolutely adorable and amazingly believable in this series.  Millie Bobby Brown in particular shows great range in an actress at a surprisingly young age.  The teens in this movie are equally believable and have great charisma.  I am convinced that Winona Ryder had never been bad in a role.  In this case, her role as a single mom whom everyone thinks is a bit crazy is spot on.  Though you know she isn’t so crazy as people think, you still wonder at her state of mind a bit thanks to Ryder’s performance. 

David Harbour as Chief Harper is terrific, making us love this lush with a heart of gold, especially when we discover just what is behind his drinking and drugging.  And then there’s Mathew Modine, Papa as he is known to Eleven.  Modine doesn’t have much of a speaking role, but you hate him just the same thanks to his mad scientist role and his interactions with Eleven.  Simply sinister.

Acting aside, what got me hooked on this series?  Was it just the nostalgia factor due in part to the 80s references and the similarities to horror films and books I had read back then?  No, those are just added attractions.  Stranger Things is a series with an addictive storyline.  There is a mystery to solve here.  Sure, you know there is a monster, but where did it come from and what does it have to do with this mysterious little girl?  Are they one in the same, is she a byproduct of its existence or is there something deeper going on here?  When are the adults going to catch on to what the kids already know?  And how in the world are they going to rescue Will when they aren’t all that certain where he really is?

These questions kept me watching until the very last episode of the eight-part series, which doesn’t exactly end, of course.  After all, the powers that be wanted this series to continue and they have been signed to another season.  There are still questions to be answered here (I don’t want to ask them here, because I don’t want to give away key parts of the season one finale) and I can’t wait to see what the second season of Stranger Things has in store. 

 

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