Netflix’s Stranger Things is a science fiction, horror, mystery and drama show that pays frequent homage to films made in the 80s. What is to be lauded the most of this series is not its ability to hold these numerous titles but its ability to successfully define itself as a stand alone project while being these many things at once.
Capturing the 1980s
How Stranger Things captured the era was what made the show very unique. Besides the postered rooms and jean jackets letting us know when the story takes place, the 80s were brilliantly captured in the show by constantly saluting films made in the decade. For example you’ll immediately think of E.T. whenever our lovable preteen protagonist ride their bikes in unison. Throughout the season there are clear call backs to films like The Poltergeist, The Thing and even some John Hughes films for whenever we saw a ‘cool’ group of teens hanging out together. The show knows when it does this and doesn’t linger whenever paying homage to this era of cinema. Instead it tells you “hey remember this 80s film you loved? If you don’t, it looks like [blank] and it made you feel like [blank]”, you notice it, maybe smile at the easter egg and the show continues to be itself. Whenever the show isn’t throwing nods of the decade at your face 80s movie star Winona Ryder, whose performance was excellent by the way, will appear on the screen and remind you once again “hey this is the 80s”.
Creators Matt and Ross Duffer are to be praised for their ability to effortlessly capture the essence of the 80s films we all love and remind us exactly what we love so much about them.
Pacing the Story
The show’s pace, even though it may seem like it’s dragging at times, is always propelling the story forward. The show begins with a man running away from something. A something that eventually eats him, or at least that’s what the camera suggest. The story immediately jumps into the next scene and this ‘thing’ has already kidnapped a member of the show’s lovable preteen group, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) , minutes after we witness him enjoy a game of Dungeons and Dragons with his friends. And Bam! Bam! Bam! The events that transpired early on quickly push the stories of the main characters that swiftly intertwine with one another as the show progresses.
Horror, Sci-Fi and More
Early on Stranger Things presents itself as solely a horror/thriller show. The first two episodes are filled with classic 80s horror tropes. There is a “good girl likes cool guy” story arc, typical jump scares, and quick cuts to the next scene that’ll scare you simply due to loud sound effects. But the show gently transforms into more than horror. The strange disappearance of Will sparks the mysterious tone of the story. Towards the middle of the series Stranger Things delves into the world of science fiction without disturbing the well established scary/mysterious atmosphere. And it is these science fiction elements of the show which I admire the most.
We explore the realm of sci-fi with Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), all played by outstanding young actors, as they delve more into the mysterious disappearance of their friend Will. The trio comes across a strange girl in the woods, El (Millie Bobby Brown), who they find out happens to have superpowers. Despite people dismissing their outlandish claims, the trio discovers a secret government facility, they explore the origins of El’s telekinetic powers and even learn of the existence spooky parallel dimensions, all of which seemingly connect to the vanishing of their friend Will. It is through these young characters that the Duffer Bros build their universe through.Not only is this extremely creative but a more efficient way of world building in comparison to the overused bland way of endless exposition as many television shows and films do today.
Mike, Lucas, Dustin and new found friend El’s decent into the strange secrets of their seemingly peaceful township never feels questionable. These kids don’t search for their friend for the sake of fulfilling the synopsis. Their conquest is justified for the sole reason that the writing discerns them as kids early on and all kids seek adventure. Every other scene in the show displays their love of stuff like comic books, D&D, and The Empire Strikes Back; a love that we shared with them when we were kids, possible even now. When their beloved worlds of comic books, sci-fi, and fatasy become a reality, their motives don’t feel forced because we were once kids and we’d understand their need to journey into the strange world around them. You’ll find that everyone else involved in the disappearance of Will Byers also has this discernible, clear resaon to act they way they do as well.
Now I could go on and ramble on about Stranger Things but it is just too layered to analyze each key detail. This shouldn’t t be reviewed in a negative way however. Despite having a lot of stories to tell, the Duffer Brothers have written distinct and strong characters across the board. The cast of youngsters, in particular Millie Bobby Brown who plays the innocent yet super powered El, added even more depth to these characters due to their wonderful performances. The directing is excellent and very similar to early 80s Spielberg and even classic horror films (fans of the two will definitely adore these similarities in the show).
The show isn’t perfect but comes close to it. There is a constant “we don’t trust, we do trust El” cycle between some of the young boys that does get annoying but is soon dropped before it effects the story too much. All in all it is great to see an original project like Stranger Things emerge in era of film and television that isn’t always too original. The creative writing of the Duffers that strays away from clichés and their unique way of paying homage to the 80s while still maintaining to be itself that makes Stranger Things one of the most special pieces of television to be released in 2016 thus far.