This is the second part to a review of Stranger Things. If you have not yet watched the show, I would recommend reading the earlier review first that focuses on the first two episodes of the show. This review will focus more on the first season as a whole picking up where the previous article left off. There will be no specific spoilers. However, plot developments or the survival of certain characters might be implied unintentionally.
Borrowing from almost every element of past horror and linking to various genres, Stranger Things becomes the definitive experience for horror fans. The Duffer Brothers came along and picked up the pieces left over from some great movies. Those pieces were then used as tools to construct the ultimate experience in entertainment. There are moments where the audience feels as if they are watching the latest superhero blockbuster. Things then shift a few moments later to a terrifying supernatural flick. Then all of a sudden you have been transported to a family drama. Finally ending with a feel good coming of age story. There is always a risk that too high of expectations will let the viewer down. But I feel confident there is no risk here.
Winona Ryder and David Harbour powerfully lead a solid cast anchored by the malevolent presence of Matthew Modine as Brenner. As the series progresses, Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers gives a wonderful performance. His character emerges from one of bitterness and isolation to a growing hero. Natalia Dyer manifests the warrior within as she completes the ideal final girl arc. One gets the impression that she relishes the role of Nancy. With good reason. Joe Keery brings multiple layers to stereotypical jock Steve Harrington. The younger cast truly shines. Millie Bobby Brown is captivating as Eleven. Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, and Noah Schnapp complement each other well while maintaining their distinctive personalities.
One thing all the characters do well is surrender to the absolute feeling of terror. They surrender with good reason. By developing relationships with these characters the suspense becomes organically crafted. The generated suspense is paid off with moments that make your heart race with fear. The terror escalates. I am not one to often yell at the screen during scary moments but this definitely brought that trait out of me.
What works well in a medium such as Netflix is the allowance for the narrative to take its time and facilitate in telling certain parts of the story. However, viewers can easily binge watch the full eight episodes in the unlikely event they feel things are going too slow. The show satiates the audience in little doses to eliminate frustration by constructing smaller arcs completed every episode or two. The smaller arcs help to satisfy the bringing together of different pieces of the puzzle. One character with a missing piece is soon joined up with another that has the corresponding part. Overall, the characters and story are within a larger arc lasting the entire eight episodes. The pressing questions at the start are mainly resolved. However, the end of the season does leave a few doors open for a second season.
It’s interesting that a show from this genre manages to have that elusive appeal for audiences of all ages. One can argue that a series with such scary moments would not be suitable for children. Myself, I grew up with Freddy Kruger and Stephen King. The only scary film-related thing to ever give me nightmares at a young age was Chucky and that was only because I happened to have a My Buddy doll. It depends usually on the guidance and involvement of those in charge to provide maintenance that the child watching is doing alright. Stranger Things speaks to children with intelligence, appeals to the John Hughes equivalent of today’s teens, and is relatable to the responsibilities adults have to face regularly.
A major reason for such appeal is that the show has an abundance of heart. At one point there is a discussion about the logic of having more than one best friend. Mike and Dustin discuss how the former is really best friends with Lucas. Mike insists that he can have more than one best friend and that Dustin is every bit as important to him. It is an honest portrayal of the insight that we have when we are young that we carry throughout our entire lives. If we are lucky. This is just one of the moments that elevates the show to something truly special.
Stranger Things illustrates the necessity of the horror genre. It demonstrates that horror is not just blood and guts but that it has soul, too. A part of the aesthetic of human history, a series like this has a clear message. The message is that despite the truly awful things that happen, there are always moments that make life worth living.
Stranger Things will be well suited to your taste if your appeal of horror involves well developed characters and leans more towards suspense rather than gore. The show is not without its moments of blood and the grotesque. However, those instances are rather minimal. Stranger Things tends to pull at all aspects of horror while forming hybrids with other genres. There is a science fiction element in addition to fantasy, drama, and comedy.
Which is, of course, why there are so many comparisons to the works of Stephen King. Children like Danny Torrence and Charlie McGee share their powers with Carrie White. Joyce is a mother trying to protect her son like Donna Trenton. There is a bond between the kids that is reflected in Stand By Me. This is an homage to Mr. King portrayed as a well done tribute. When reading Stephen King (or watching the majority of his adaptations), one at times forgets that they are reading or watching horror. He has a way of pulling at the heart strings of human nature. This particular style is something that has been sorely missed in the category of horror. The Duffer Brothers have brought it back to life.