Review - Stranger Things
I know I’m late to the party here but I thought I’d throw my two cents in about this show anyway. First off, I had heard nothing about the Duffer Brother’s ‘Stranger Things’ until the day it came out and I hadn’t seen any promotional material on it other than a few Netflix ads sprinkled here and there. I had nothing against it, but it just didn’t grab me enough to press the play button. Then I started to hear all the buzz and after about two weeks or so I finally began to watch it, and boy am I glad I did.
‘Stranger Things’ revolves around the disappearance of a small-town boy in the woods, as well as the appearance of a girl with mysterious, unexplained powers. The boy’s mother is thoroughly convinced that something paranormal or alien in nature is happening and that her son is not dead. Her son’s group of friends also start their own investigation when this mystery girl shows up at one of their doorsteps.
What I was most impressed with about ‘Stranger Things’ was how effortlessly it juggled multiple plot-lines and mysteries and then brought them all back together into a cohesive whole at the end. The script-writing here is great, even if it borrows many elements from older films. I thought there was no way they’d be able to connect all of these strands in a convincing way, but they did it, and the ending, apart from a few unanswered questions, actually made sense.
The cast is also spot-on; there’s some seriously great emotional moments that would not have worked if the actors weren’t completely committed like they were here. The best performances here I would say came out of the missing son’s mother, (Winona Ryder) who gives a heart-wrenching performance as the mother who lost her son. She becomes hell-bent on finding him and you really felt her pain. I had to pinch myself at times because I was so immersed in her performance I thought it was real The lead police officer, Hopper (David Harbour) also has a pretty heavy emotional arc that parallels the mother’s storyline in a really touching way, he’s also effortlessly likable and gets a few cheer-worthy moments. I also liked Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) who plays one of the three kids in the group searching for their lost friend. He had a very convincing, natural sense of humor and child-like wonder. Finally, I thought the unidentified girl named “Eleven” (Millie Bobby Brown) was very good; displaying many emotions without saying much at all, which can be a very hard thing to do. Everyone else is also good, but didn’t quite stand out in the way that the four I listed did, though I will say the mother’s older son, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) also gets some great moments.
If you like Stephen Spielberg, Stephen King, The Goonies and John Carpenter, this show is for you. This show’s look, sound and feel borrows so much from the ‘80s it’s not even funny. Though some will think this is just shameless aping of other director’s styles, I absolutely love it. Sure, you can probably match each and every scene from this show with all of the horror/sci-fi flicks from the eighties, but The Duffer Brothers know this already. This story feels like the best kind of homage to that era of filmmaking. The eerie, pulsating, synthy electronic soundtrack is also one of the best things I’ve heard this year, especially during the show’s soon-to-be-classic intro before each episode.
I’m honestly surprised by how good this show looks. The picture quality and lighting is perfect. The action and effects are also surprisingly good, and there’s quite a sizeable handful of them. I don’t know what the actual budget was on this, but I’m positive that it wasn’t that much. They managed to get a lot of great things up on the screen and it just makes me wonder how some of these bigger budget movies cost so much and still end up looking like sh*t, when this little show comes around and looks nearly as good as ‘Super 8’.
As far as criticisms for the show go, I felt like the antagonists in this weren’t particularly interesting and I didn’t really care about the experiments they were doing. They came off kind of like the X-files suits, except somehow even less interesting. There’s also a predatory creature in the show that has some really cool abilities, but its actual physical design isn’t terribly exciting looking. Sure, the CG work is good for what it is, but I felt like they could have done more to distinguish its look from the crowd of CG monsters I’ve grown used to.
I know I said that this show ties everything together in a nice bow at the end, but it failed to fully explain certain things that happened, I wanted to learn more about the creature then what they provided. And as much as I like the ending, it has an almost stinger-like second ending where I thought it shamelessly teased more to come. Believe me, I want more, I just have a complaint about who they decided to throw more bad sh*t at...if that makes any sense at all. This certain character has been through hell and back and they tease that it’s not over for him/her.
‘Stranger Things’ is a great throwback to a generation of classic mystery/sci-fi/horror films, and also just a good show on its own that has a few unique tricks up its sleeve. I loved the mystery and all of the characters involved, and the visual and tonal aspects of the show were spot-on. Apart from dull antagonists, an ill-advised teaser at the end and a few dangling questions, this is a solid first season that has me longing for its return, which will hopefully be soon.