I’ve been sitting on my response to Netflix’s Stranger Things for almost a month now. By now, you’ve probably seen – or at least started the 8 episodes that make up its first season. If you haven’t, shame on you. You are missing out on something very special. The Duffer Brothers (Hidden) and executive producer Shawn Levy (Real Steel) have put together a supernatural drama for the ages. There simply is nothing else like it on television. Recalling the thrills of a bygone era, nothing comes close to the power this tale holds in firing up the imagination.
Set in Hawkins, Indiana during the fall of 1983, Matt and Ross Duffer have written a supernatural story that touches on all the cinematic influences of my childhood. The kids ride bikes. They use walkie-talkies. There is no cell phone in sight. Let me restate that for emphasis: there are NO CELL PHONES. No texting. No distractions. Just some good old fashioned Dungeons & Dragons, imagination, and some town-wide explorations. God, I miss it.
Posters of movies by Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter adorn their bedroom walls. They reference Empire Strikes Back time and time again. They are, essentially, reflections of ANY child who grew up during this time period and these characters are about to have the adventure of a lifetime. Stranger Things nails down EXACTLY what it was like to grow up at that time and, trust me, I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.
The children at the center of this narrative were MY friends growing up and they are perfect in their roles. The kids – Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson (who has cleidocranial dysplasia), Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, and Noah Schnapp as Will Byers, the child who goes missing after a supernatural encounter – will make you long for the past. It’s as if these child actors are woven from the same fabric of The Goonies and Stand By Me because they don’t miss a beat; that’s how tightly wound their clique is.
And when a young girl with telekinetic powers needs their help escaping the eerily blank expressions of Matthew Modine as Dr. Martin Brenner and the long tentacles of the experimental lab she broke out of, the group is all in. They call her Eleven and if the boys are the center of the series than she – actress Millie Bobby Brown, complete with a shaven head – is its beating heart. To put it frankly, her heartbreaking story and her performance will leave you speechless and swooning. She’s THAT good.
But Stranger Things wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a monster lurking about in the shadows and this is where it’s Stephen King influences kick in. The police officers read him, David Harbour as Chief Jim Hopper comments on how much he liked the mutt at the center of one of King’s books, and even the font at the beginning of the series’ credits matches the one used for the titles of King’s classics. But the monster – the Demogorgon of the Upside-Down – is unlike anything seen before on television and it is it alone that will connect the grief and struggles of the families involved in the search for the missing Will.
The teenagers - Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler, Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers, and Joe Keery as Steve Harrington – are far removed from the annoying types usually found in stories of this nature. They are believable and the sort-of love triangle they form is an interesting one, full of tension and, surprisingly, respect. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen teenagers as three-dimensional as this on the screen, no matter how big or small it is.
But what would this narrative be without Winona Ryder? I can’t imagine her not being in it. Her performance as the grieving Joyce Byers, who receives electronic communication from her son while everyone around her tells her that he is dead, is so entirely convincing that she damn near steals it away from the great cast of kids. She’s frazzled, exhausted, and chain-smoking her way through the madness of burying a boy who she doesn’t believe is hers and the realization that Chief Hopper is her only friend, now that Ross Partridge as Lonnie, her ex-husband, has come to collect the finances he feels he is entitled to.
All of these limbs come together to form a very unique tale of supernatural horror and adventure. Stranger Things is fun, spirited, and downright spooky. It also captures the very essence of the entertainment and culture of 1983 and manages to make us long for simpler times for our children; we want them to share in this world. Adventures like this were possible, once upon a time ago. Sure its conspiracy-minded and, given the era, it certainly feels like it belongs there but there is a freshness to the overall tale that is damn shocking.
With a pulsating electronic score from Austin, Texas synth mavericks Survive, Stranger Things transports viewers to another time and another place. Much has been made of the soundtrack. And, yes, it is as perfect as the show. Netflix, giving in to the cries heard from the public, will be releasing the official score soon. It should have a nice mix of synths and singles, covering everyone from Moby to Corey Hart.
The first season of Stranger Things is an awesome place to visit. Hawkins, Indiana reminds me very much of the town I was raised in. While isolated, it feels very much like a place where anything CAN happen and what it offers the boys with a top secret research lab nearby AND a rock quarry is limitless in its appeal. Little wonder than that the show has taken America by storm and has already been renewed for another season, premiering July 2017.
Stranger Things is the land of imagination, a place where the unbelievable is always present. Welcome back to 1983.
MPAA Rating: Not rated by the MPAA
Runtime: 55 mins/episode
Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
Cast: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux
Genre: TV | Horror
Tagline: A Netflix Original Series
Memorable Movie Quote: "Lando!"
Official Site: http://www.netflix.com
Release Date: July 15, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back.