TV Review: Stranger Things
Synopsis: A love letter to the ’80s classics that captivated a generation, Stranger Things is set in 1983 Indiana, where a young boy vanishes into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into an extraordinary mystery involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl.
REVIEW: Every so often, a television series or movie comes out of nowhere and throws audiences for a loop. There is no easy way to always tell whether something is going to be good anymore based on trailers alone so unless something is an absolute certainty, audiences sometimes miss out on great stories. After a surprisingly popular trailer popped Stranger Things onto my radar, I may have thought twice before checking it out. After seeing the first three episodes, I can say this is going to be the best show of the summer and may rival some of the blockbusters hitting theaters. A true throwback to the heydey of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, Stranger Things is a pastiche to films like E.T., STARMAN, WATCHERS, FIRESTARTER, and SILVER BULLET. It also should appeal to fans of more recent films like SUPER 8, IT FOLLOWS, and MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. This is a great show that will hook you from the first five minutes and will not let go.
Stranger Things is a very familiar looking show. For any child of the 1980s, this series will take you right back to that era of rotary phones, cassette tapes, and Trapper Keepers. Series creators and directors Ross and Matt Duffer (HIDDEN, Wayward Pines) do an admirable job of casting actors that look less like performers and more like actual teenagers. With the exception of recognizable faces like Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine and David Harbour, everyone on Stranger Things is a fresh face or someone you may recognize from small films and other television shows. This helps suck you into the story which cryptically unfolds without divulging just what the hell is going on. Like Abrams' SUPER 8, Stranger Things
The first episode opens with a scientist being killed by an unseen creature, hinting at an alien or monstrous creature being present in the small Indiana town our characters live in. But, we soon have a missing boy, a mysterious girl with powers, and a shady government group hunting her and the creature down. There are also creepy phone calls and electrical surges that defy explanation. As the episodes progress, you begin to question whether the Duffer brothers are paying homage to science fiction films, horror movies, or both. Much of these plot elements could be seen as cliche or derivative but they are handled with respect and seriousness without delving into camp or parody. Stranger Things has fun with the elements of 1980s genre movies but still takes itself seriously and you will, too. Tidbits and details about the characters pepper the story and naturally give us details about these people that make them seem almost real.
While the show is very much centered on the child characters, it is the performances from David Harbour as Chief Hopper and Winona Ryder as grieving mother Joyce that really make this show work. Harbour has made a career out of supporting roles in films like BLACK MASS and THE EQUALIZER but here gets to shine as the alcoholic small town sherrif forced to deal with the mysterious goings on. Ryder has always been a great actress but it is amazing to see her show so much depth as a mother torn apart by the abduction of her son under odd circumstances. Though the mysterious happenings are not fully explained, the bits and pieces discovered through the opening hours of the show paint a very confusing picture. At one moment, it seems the creatures can disappear in light while in another, walls are pulsating and mysterious phone calls are coming through the line and electrocuting the listener.
Like the acclaimed television series Lost, Stranger Things lays out breadcrumbs about what is going to come next. Rather than spoon feed us what the monster looks like or what is happening, we are left to try and piece the puzzle together using limited clues. This may be frustrating for some, but I definitely think everyone can find something to love in this show. The cinematography is feature film caliber and the electronic score from Michael Stein and Kyle DIxon of the band Survive is stellar. Listening to the music here will immediately remind you of Cliff Martinez's work on DRIVE and Disasterpiece's music for IT FOLLOWS. Wrap that together and you have yourself the makings of another summer television hit.
With a limited eight episode run, Stranger Things needs to fire on all cylinders to draw you in and hook you for potential future runs. It is unclear if this show will be a self-contained story along the lines of Fargo or American Horror Story, but I hope that whatever the endgame is for this tale that they don't drag it out too long. Scary stories can only be scary for so long before they lose their fear factor. But, judging by what we have seen so far, we are in for some sleepless nights thanks to this show. I am not saying that Stranger Things is a perfect show, but it definitely has the most promise out of anything I have seen released this year. At the very least, we have ourselves some bright new talent in Ross and Matt Duffer who have hooked me in, ready to binge every remaining episode of this fantastic mystery.