Netflix’s Stranger Things: A Review by Nate Hill 

Netflix’s Stranger Things snuck up and floored me. You’d think that a long form mystery series concocted from the DNA of Amblin/ET/Goonies and retro, gooey Stephen King horror would have made a significant blip on my radar months in advance, but nope. That almost made watching it even more special; this wasnt something I’d spent oodles of time hyping up and thinking about (which often leads to expectations being dashed). It came out of the blue and knocked me sideways six ways to Sunday. I came home one night with the notion to check out the pilot before I went to bed. I fell deeply in love within the first ten minutes, and slashed my curfew to bits as I devoured about half the season in one go, hitting stop only because I would have been depressed to wake up the following morning and have no more to watch. I took the next day off work to finish up the remaining episodes, after which I sat there in a gaping stupor. I’ve since rewatced it all again. Yes, it’s that good. It’s not just the nostalgia bursting at the seams that suckered me in. This is is a show with a meticulous pace where you feel every beat naturally, some of the most fleshed out characters of recent times that you actually really CARE about, and a wondrous story relating to fear of the unknown, the bonds of friendships both new and old, redemption in the face of ages old trauma and grief, a reverence to all things creepy & crawly, an understanding of the importance fear holds in both our entertainment and collective psyches and above all, a sense of adventure. As soon as the retro opening credits flared up, I knew I was in for something special. They’re a flurry of neon letters that assemble in fashion and font achingly similar to King’s books, set to an ominous synth rhapsody that echoes everything from Refn to Sinoia Cave’s Beyond The Black Rainbow. Immediately we are transported to a setting drawn forth from the past and the nightmares of many other artists before it’s time, which is not to say it’s at all derivitive or lazy. That’s the issue with deliberatly nostalgic stuff: it can come across as forced or cheap novelty trying to play to our sentimental sides. This one uses it naturally and never feels like a gimmick for one second. What’s amazing is that despite the fact that nearly every element of story it uses has been done before multiple times throughout the years, it all somehow feels completely new, and never once leans on the crutch of inspiration any harder than it has to, which in this day and age deserves a goddamn medal. The story opens up in small town Hawkins, Indiana, sometime in the mid 80’s. Just outside of town, trouble brews deep within a mysterious CIA sanctioned research laboratory. A dangerous portal is opened, something from another dimension gets out, a girl with telepathic abilities named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) escapes into the town, and young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears without a trace from his home. All this happens in the first half hour, kicking off a well timed wind chime of inciting incidents to get the tale underway. The town is thrown into a panic as Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) frantically searches for him. The forlorn, sad sack police chief Hopper (David Harbour, beyond excellent in so many ways) tries to reign in the growing mania, but the situation only gets worse. Will’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) witnesses another disappearance, and Eleven finds herself hiding out with Will’s endearing gang of buddies (Finn Wolfhard, Caleb Mclaughlin and Gaten Matarazzo), who valiantly launch a quest to ensure his safe return from the netherworld. Meanwhile, the laboratory’s sinister, silver haired head Doctor Brenner (a chilling Matthew Modine) is an amoral prick who will stop at nothing to get Eleven back and continue his godawful experiments. It’s a hell of a lot crammed into eight hours, but not a second is wasted, not a scene or a line of dialogue misplaced. Everything glides smoothly and the whole thing is so joyously watchable that I had trouble even thinking about picking up my phone or reaching for the iPad (I’m easily distracted). There’s teen drama, heartbreaking tragedy, first love, palpable danger without being too gory or messed up, and damn if the Spielberg/King flavour isn’t just delactable. The monster is a gooey, walking Venus fly trap that instills real fear in the opening moments of the pilot. The ideas explored are presented in ways that would make both the X Files and Twilight Zone jealous. My favourite performance has to be Brown as Eleven. Of all the child roles hers is the most difficult to land and she’s a revelation. Seeing the world outside the facility with new eyes, falling for Wolfhard, protecting her newfound friends, it’s all handled impeccably and I think we can expect great things from this young actress. David Harbour has consistently shown versatility in anything he does, and when one looks at his role here contrasted against work in, say, A Walk Among The Tombstones, it’s uncanny. His arc goes from sheepish to badass to tragic and he positively soars. Modine channels the very essence of King style villains, over pronouncing every syllable with poised venom on the tongue and cloaked malice oozing from every pore. Ryder works herself up into a frenzy that any mother must feel in the situation, and it’s just great to see her in a central role in anything these days. The kids provide heart and levity, proving wise beyond their years to the point of Calvin & Hobbes esque insight, yet still maintaining their innocence in the face of peril. Not only does the soundtrack showcase a whole whack of 80’s treasures (that Joy Division tho♡), the score itself by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is a love letter to everything from Tangerine Dream to Cliff Martinez, evoking the setting beautifully and bringing forth atmosphere in scene after scene after scene. Stranger Things lovingly blows a trumpet of times past, wears it’s influences proudly and unobtrusively on its sleeve and brilliantly blazes it’s own trail. There are monsters out there, both human and otherwise. Never give up hope, not matter how bleak the prognosis. There’s still some wonder and unknown to be discovered in this world of ours (and beyond). Redemption is only a few daring acts around the bend. Kindness goes a long way, as does trust. Friends don’t lie. These are but a few things you’ll discover if you give this one a shot, which I hope you will. Bring on Season 2, man.

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