Before I even start, I know i’m late to the party on this. It took me until the other day for me to realize that I still hadn’t seen Stranger Things. I missed out on all of the hype for the series and I honestly feel like that’s a good thing. It also helped that I managed to avoid all of the spoilers. This was my chance to see if all of the buzz was justified and…yeah, it was. It’s rare for anything to really live up to hype when it gets to a certain level. It was great to see a horror sci-fi series made my brothers who obviously have a love for the genre.
Stranger Things has a narrative that could’ve been jumbled easily by less talented people. Basically, a boy named Will goes missing and everyone in the town goes looking for him. While that’s happening a mysterious girl with superpowers named Eleven shows up in the town. The way they weave these 2 different plots to be relevant to each other without a single pacing issue is a triumph. I will say it is a slower paced series though. That’s not to say that it drags on because I don’t believe it does at all. It’s slower paced to give the audience time to really digest everything that they’re seeing. It creates this very heavy atmosphere that’s very tense and unyielding.
With all of that said, it should be no surprise that the screenplay is Stranger Thing’s biggest strength. This is a well written series that balances many different tones while staying true to what makes the series tick. What is that you might ask? It’s the kids. The group of children are what make this series so special. It’s not because they’re incredibly complex because they really aren’t, but because they capture childlike behavior in a way that doesn’t distract from the narrative. Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven are all able to keep these childlike qualities in the face of some seriously terrifying circumstances. Their naivety, curiosity, imagination, and humor shine through at pretty much every point. As individuals they all have a purpose as well. Mike is the essentially the leader of the group and he’s a normal kid. Not in the annoying way either because he came across as mature for his age. Dustin is the funny one in the group who has some of the best one liners in entire show. He has this charm to him and he’s adorable. Lucas is the overly cautious one in the group. He’s always the one who questions Mike’s decision making which leads to some serious conflict. Last we have Eleven who is awesome. She’s a quiet girl who has supernatural powers that allow her to do some crazy stuff. Because of where she comes from, she’s completely oblivious to societal norms. Those moments where she learns about them make for some unexpectedly funny scenes.
There’s something else really cool that the writers do with kids that really won me over. The kids at the beginning of episode 1 are shown to be big fans of the game Dungeons & Dragons. It would be really hard for children to process a lot of the stuff they encounter, so to help themselves understand the situations they would often explain it in D&D terms. This also spares the audience from hearing incoherent sci-fi babble, and instead puts it into terms that everyone can understand.
Even outside of the children there are fantastic characters. My favorite is Jim Hopper, a cop in the town. I like that he avoids a lot of common tropes that are seen in these types of stories. While some of the things going on in the town may be absolutely ridiculous and unbelievable, he doesn’t deny those ridiculous notions when there’s proof that it might be true. He has this drive to get answers and is willing to go through crazy lengths to obtain them. When Will goes missing he racks his brain trying to figure out what might have happened. As things begin to unfold he gets this borderline obsession with the case which leads him to some awesome and terrifying places. He was the person I was rooting for the most because to me it was clear he cared about the people in the town.
To carry these characters you need some great performances, and yes Stranger Things has you covered there as well. The chemistry that all of the children have is really remarkable. They deliver their dialogue in a way that feels completely organic. They actually sound like kids. Winona Rider plays Will’s mom and she was excellent as well. The way she comes completely unhinged due to her son’s disappearance is fantastic. She really plays it in a way that I picture my mom would act given the circumstances. David Harbour as Jim Hopper I really enjoyed. There are layers to his character that go over very well because of his mannerisms and facial expressions. Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven was definitely the show stealer here. She gave a subtle performance that came across better than I ever thought it would. She is someone to watch out for in the future.
I mentioned atmosphere before when talking about the style of Stranger Things, and the camera work definitely reflects this dark, bleak, and tense vibe. There’s never a rush to get from one scene to another. They play out slowly and the camera hangs around without making too many cuts in between. The lighting is pretty slick. A lot of it takes place at night, but most of the scenes outside are pretty standard. What I really liked were the way they used flickering lights. There’s one scene in particular that takes place in a corridor that was really cool.
It’s also obvious that Stranger Things is a love letter to older movies, especially 1980’s horror and older Steven Spielberg films. You can see it in the Jaws, The Thing, and Evil Dead movie posters that can be seen in the houses. Even in the characters there are references to older movies. This is especially true for Eleven’s character. Her powers are reminiscent of those in Carrie. The way the she shows up and is immediately hid away in Mike’s basement is a lot like E.T. There are definitely homages to Alien too. The monster in the series has features similar to the xenomorph. There is a specific scene that was heavily inspired by The Poltergeist that I thought really worked with what they were going for. It’s a play on the scene where the daughter attempts to communicate through the walls after she’s taken. These little references might not dictate how good or bad the series is, but they’re appreciated by someone like me who is a fan of a lot of these films.
Overall, Stranger Things is a fantastic series that I believe fans of horror will really enjoy. With its balanced screenplay, excellent performances, and spot on direction it really stands out among current day series. It was easy for me to fly by the 8 episodes currently on Netflix and think about what they might have planned in season 2. Considering the note that they left us on, I have a good feeling I won’t get let down.
Stranger Things gets a 95/100 and is a awarded the title of…