It’s been a while since I’ve been able to binge a show and thoroughly enjoy it as much as I have done the new Netflix series Stranger Things. Created by the Duffer brothers, the tagline is “When a young boy vanishes, a small town uncovers a mystery involving secret experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one strange little girl.”
What is Stranger Things?
I won’t spoil the show here, but suffice it to say that it’s a supernatural thriller that owes a lot to some of the greatest sci-fi and horror masters of the 80s – Stephen King, Stephen Spielberg, John Carpenter. Many see it as a reworking of Stephen King’s IT, with a smattering of E.T. thrown in for good measure. Although it’s shot on a RED Dragon digital camera, it’s been graded to look like an 80s movie (I understand they scanned 80s film and then applied the grain to the show) and the music, titles, and feel of the show take you right back to the 80s (if you’re old enough). And, of course, it’s set there too.
The desire of modern audiences to have the latest effects, CGI, and full-on action sequences in everything they see has resulted in the decline of intelligent filmmaking, in my opinion. I was underwhelmed by the latest installment of Star Trek, for example, because it turned the franchise into just another action movie in space, and my fear going into Stranger Things was that the same thing was about to happen.
A Stellar Cast of Relative Unknowns
But what the Duffers managed to do brilliantly was cast the show in such a way that you quickly realise their dedication to telling you a story, rather than overwhelming you with effects. Other than Winona Ryder, who it seems has been out of the public eye for long enough that she doesn’t bring any baggage to this role (or maybe I’m not going to the right movies), the stars of this show are fresh faces. Real faces, with real quirks, who truly make you believe in who they are and don’t seem to be taken from the usual stable of Hollywood pinups. Finn Wolfhard plays Mike Wheeler, who leads the group of friends as they search for fellow D&D gamer Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), snatched after cycling home from a marathon gaming session. Along with Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Mike tries to find Will and along the way runs into a strange, wandering girl known only as “Eleven” (she has “011” tattooed on her arm). “El,” as Mike nicknames her, is played hauntingly by British actress Millie Bobby Brown and gives one of the standout performances of the series.
Getting the Tone Right
Stranger Things gets the tone right: period-appropriate music, references, and props; frequent shoutouts to the films and quirks of the period (banging a TV set to get it working, dial telephones, huge walkie talkies). But it also does something that as a viewer, I’ve missed for a long time – it creates a world where you can lose yourself in a story and have an adventure, reliving the experiences of your youth without the style-over-substance distraction of modern productions.
Although the modern twist of being able to binge-watch the whole series in one go is a convenience I have to admit I appreciated. But regardless of your age I think there’s something rare and special about this show. I hope they produce a second season, and if they do, my bets are on this talented writer/director duo being able to bring us more retro nostalgia magic.