Monday, August 1, 2016

Stranger Things—A Review

What do you mean only 8 episodes!?
Netflix has really hit one out of the park with Stranger Things.  This supernatural mystery, set in the 80s, provides plenty of entertainment for audiences of all appropriate ages (probably 13 and older).  The ensemble cast brings together veterans like Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine and David Harbour alongside newcomers like Millie Bobby Brown and Natalia Dyer, crafting relatable characters who find themselves caught up in a horror story.

When Will Byers, one of a group of true nerdy kids, disappears on his way home, his mother (Ryder) becomes increasingly frantic.  Her reaction and real world fears is something any parent can relate to.  She only becomes convinced that her son is alive and somehow “trapped” when events and evidence begin to pile up.  Meanwhile, Will’s friends, played by a Goonies-inspired trio (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin) arrive at the same conclusion when they discover Eleven, a girl with strange Stephen King-like psychic powers.  Obviously, there’s some connection between the arrival of Eleven and the disappearance of Will, but that exact nature is mostly left to the final reveal.

The 80s never looked so real.
While adhering to many of the themes of a drama-horror, Stranger Things does some wonderful things—like making its characters smart.  Those who have had some experience with the doings of a horror movie will know that in order to amp up, or hand-wave, the action, characters tend to make silly, even stupid choices given the ongoing circumstances.  That’s generally not the case with Stranger Things.  Every major character who knew, or had some idea, what was going on actively worked to protect themselves while still trying to overcome the “big bad”.  For once, there was some solid critical thinking within the rules of the story that is quite amazing.  Also, for a show set in the 80s, it doesn’t overwhelm the audience with a truckload of references.  If this show had been filmed in the 80s, likely viewers wouldn’t have been any wiser.

The overall creepy, edge-of-your-seat feel of this eight-episode series is one that will draw you in from its era-appropriate title card through to its mystery-wrapped conclusion.  Enough of the conflicts are resolved that, should it not fare well, the entire story is told.  However, there are plenty of ends loose enough that the show could build a worthwhile second season.

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