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This review is practically spoiler-free. I would like to keep it that way, so please don’t leave any spoilers in the comment section.
Stranger Things is Netflix’s newest hit show, created by Matt and Ross Duffer. The complete first season consisting of eight episodes was released online on 15th July. Viewers’ and critics’ expectations of the new show were high, but the series definitely did not disappoint.
When the twelve-year-old Will Byers mysteriously disappears in 1983, his mother Joyce is tormented by grief and uncertainty. She spreads hundreds of posters and begs the police to start an investigation, even though the disappearance is not yet considered as worrying. When she gets a phone call and all she can hear is someone’s breathing, she claims it’s her son’s. The telephone sadly doesn’t survive the storm that’s going on at that moment and therefore she cannot ask Will where he is. The exact same thing happens after Joyce buys a new phone: she gets a call, hears someone breathing, believes it’s her son and before she can ask him anything, the telephone is struck by lightning that’s not there this time. When she finds out she can communicate with her son through light – one blink means yes, two means no – she completely decorates her house with Christmas lights. Because of Winona Ryder’s sublime acting skills you immediately feel sympathy for Joyce who desperately tries to find her son while convincing the outside world that she is not losing her mind.
While Wills mother tries to get him back from their own home, his friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin go to the place where he was last seen. There they don’t find Will, but an unknown girl of the same age. The boys secretly let her stay in Mike’s basement and find out she doesn’t have an actual name: she’s just called 011. They call her El for short. When it turns out that El has telekinetic powers, Mike and Dustin believe she can help them with their quest to find their friend. Lucas remains sceptical, however. Although some might find this scepticism irritating, it is a believable reaction. After all, why would they just trust a girl with special abilities who happens to appear on the exact same spot their friend Will disappeared? Therefore the credibility of the characters surely needs to be praised as well. Many characters are sufficiently developed and don’t seem flat and without depth, something a lot of horror stories fail to deliver.
El is probably the most interesting character of them all, which is partly due to Ellie Brown’s acting performances. With little words she still manages to elaborately express her fear and curiosity in a world that’s totally new to her. A world in which she does have an identity and hears words like ‘friendship’ for the first time. A world in which she’s considered a person and not a weapon against the Soviet Union, which was the intention of the lab she managed to escape from.
Furthermore there’s Will’s older brother Jonathan who wants to find out what happened to his brother in his own way, while he is forced to watch his mother’s mental condition getting worse every day. The investigation of Will Byers is led by chief Hopper, a tough guy with a painful past. During the investigation he is constantly confronted with the pain he suffered himself after having lost his own daughter to cancer.
While Stranger Things isn’t necessarily scary, it will undoubtedly please fans of classic horror. The show is full of references to well-known horror movies and books from the eighties. In any other film or show those references would be regarded as clichés, but that’s the great thing about Stranger Things: it’s self-aware. The writers know very well those horror elements aren’t original and that has never been their intention. Their show is more of an homage to the horror classics that inspired it. That’s why the story takes place in 1983 and why you hear one of the characters mention horror novelist Stephen King. This doesn’t mean the story is ever predictable or boring, though: despite the many references it’s still a gripping and overall original story that is definitely not drawn-out. Since almost all of the questions and problems are solved in the season finale, the last episode could have served as the end of the series; if it weren’t for that horrifying reveal in the last scene that will continue the story in the next season.
No TV-program is perfect, however and Stranger Things is surely no exception to the rule. While most special effects are decent, the green screen technology doesn’t look very realistic. Luckily there aren’t that many moments where the cast is standing in front of a green screen and it’s not as problematic as in Once Upon A Time either, a show in which that kind of technology is nonetheless of very high importance. Lastly, there is one song that is used multiple times in the show: Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash. Although this is an amazing rock classic, it doesn’t seem like a good choice for the scenes in which it is used. The song is played every time a character is left wondering whether … well … whether they should stay or go. It’s a little too on-the-nose and makes it seem like someone with little experience took care of the music.
Apart from those few flaws Stranger Things is a very decent horror show with an amazingly talented cast, sufficiently developed characters and a nice pace. The program makes sure all of the biggest mysteries are solved in one season without making the reveals feel forced or rushed. In some ways it reminded me of the French quality show Les Revenants. In that series the mysteries are not solved as quickly as in Stranger Things and the horror is rather atmospheric, but fans of Stranger Things will surely enjoy this show too. Just be sure to watch the original French series and not the less successful American remake called The Returned.
Stranger Things (season 1) – The Duffer Brothers