Netflix has shown to be the new titan in television programming and Stranger Things is another in a long line of great shows.
Immediately upon looking at the title font you are reminded of the great ’80s television series Tales From the Darkside.
This is a great place to start as Stranger Things is a tribute to many things ’80s. From its look to the sound, Stranger Things feels like a marriage between John Carpenter and Stephen Spielberg written by Stephen King. That may seem like a tall order but Stranger Things delivers on all those points.
Directed and written by the Duffer Brothers who formerly wrote and directed the films Hidden (2015) and All Fall Down (2005).
Stranger Things is set in 1980s Indiana which lends a great deal to both charm and nostalgia. The look and tone, as I said before, is a hybrid of John Carpenter and Stephen Spielberg. There are many posters of John Carpenter films littering the walls in the show. The score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the Austin, Texas, band Survive elicits pure John Carpenter tempo. The soundtrack is rounded out by some great ’80s music tracks highlighted by The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and some more esoteric songs from bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division. It was great to here some ’80s songs that did not come from a pile of cliche tracks.
The story begins with a game of Dungeons and Dragons where we are introduced to our young protagonists Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McGlaughlin), Mike Wheeler ( Finn Wolfhard), and Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). After the conclusion of the campaign, Will is taken by a mysterious creature to parts unknown. The following morning we are introduced to Will’s mother Joyce, played by ’80s icon Winona Ryder. Let me be honest here: Winona seems to be in an entirely different film from everyone else. She tends to chew the scenery in her scenes while the rest of the cast seems a bit more subdued. Once Joyce realizes Mike is missing, she contacts the sheriff, Jim Hopper (David Harbour). Watching Sheriff Hopper, I cannot get out of my head that it is a role that the great Tom Atkins would have played in the 1980s. Harbour does a great job as the rugged hard-drinking sheriff with skeletons in his closet. The next day a young girl who is named 11 (Millie Bobby Brown) appears. Brown does an amazing job for a child actor. Her depiction of the young girl raised in a laboratory by a government agency is haunting. Eleven meets the group of young boys and assists them in finding their lost friend. The subplot consists of Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) losing her chastity and also her friend Barbara causing her to be embroiled in the mystery as well. All of the parties end up uncovering a secret plot to open another dimension where a monster resides.
Stranger Things is a summer must watch. It embodies what is good in classic cinema storytelling. The best type of horror has a foundation in characters that the audience has empathy for, and Stranger Things does this well. Except for Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), who comes across as too creepy to be amiable or a love interest for Nancy. The rest of the cast has a great chemistry, especially Eleven and the young boys. The camaraderie between them has been compared to films like The Goonies and Stand By Me. This is rare and sorely missed in 2016. I hope that Stranger Things and the interest around it may be a foundation for more horror if not all films to return to this style.
I would recommend that you keep this from your younger children. The scares and mild sexuality may not be appropriate. But if your children are in middle school or above, the show is no more horrific that what you will see in any television program seen after 8pm.
If your family is looking for some after dark summer chills, Stranger Things is for you. I hope that we will see more seasons forthcoming.