Stranger Things is the perfect show for someone who can’t handle genuine horror films but loves coming of age films, sci-fi, and Stephen King type scares. People are calling this Netflix show an homage to Spielberg films and King stories. I couldn’t ask for more. Spielberg films have a special place in my heart and film-adaptations of King’s books are the only scary movies I legitimately enjoy watching. Everyone knows Spielberg is great with kids (just watch Jurassic Park and try and figure out how he managed to keep those kids likable when no other similar film can) but King is also great at portraying the fragile nature of childhood and navigating the complications of the teenage years.
The basic plot of Stranger Things is simple. Boy goes missing and his friends and family go looking for him, only to find supernatural occurrences, and a little girl named Eleven, in their small town. The 3 young boys looking to find their friend are, as others have written, the best example of onscreen friendship in a longtime. They argue, make up, and genuinely respect each other. After the events they witness they are surely bonded for life if they weren’t already. They are depicted as nerds who get picked on and play Dungeons & Dragons for hours at a time but us savvy 2016 viewers know these kids are the future of our tech-focused world. Not since Freaks and Geeks have I wished I’d played Dungeons and Dragons growing up. They take the game so seriously, as if their lives depend on it, which they might.
The casting throughout Stranger Things is amazing. The girl who plays Eleven does more of the heavy lifting than most of the other characters combined and does it with ease.
The teenage side of the story, a love-triangle shoehorned into the more horror side of the show is less appealing to me but only because I’d rather be one of the kids riding bikes and strategizing over walkie talkies than reliving the awkwardness of first loves and teenage melodrama.
The adults, for the most part, are either played as “dufus dad” “meddling mom” or “skeptical adult.” Neglectful parents who have no idea what is going on with their children only works by setting the show firmly in the past. In 2016 calls to CPS would be ringing off the hook. In the 80s though, that neglect meant freedom to discover and have real, or imaginary, adventures with friends. Not the scheduled/supervised visitations kids call playtime now. Okay, this paragraph got a little preachy but I couldn’t help thinking about how different this show would have to be if it was set in present time.
Joyce, the mom of the missing boy, played by Winona Ryder, seems to be played as just another frantic emotional woman but she’s the first person to realize something isn’t right and screams for help until she’s finally heard and believed. I won’t give too much away but Winona’s emotional connection with inanimate objects in this film is a master class in acting. I’ve never felt more towards less interesting objects.
Everyone is talking about the nostalgia and references that fill every scene and it’s there in spades if you want to dissect the show. The show knows you’re looking for them and flips some of the expectations on their heads to make you remember you are watching a new story.
The show is most inventive with the props and the monster. The use of lights (not lighting) is clever from a visual and emotional perspective. It should remind filmmakers that using everyday items gone awry as an indicator of other-worldliness always works. We have to look and use this stuff every day so when they don’t work as intended, or work on their own, it is the perfect indicator that it’s okay to freak out. The monster stays firmly where I like it, in quick flashes at the far corner of the screen. Nothing can turn a monster movie from scary/suspenseful to funny/ridiculous faster than a good hard look at the creature (I’m looking at you Signs).
I was genuinely scared, surprised, impressed, and intrigued throughout Stranger Things. It’s only 8 episodes and definitely best to watch at least two at a time. The first couple episodes really build up the cast and the vibe and then the end of episode 3 will make you question what kind of show you thought you were watching. Make sure you watch episodes 3 & 4 together.
Parental/child viewing suggestion (I don’t have kids):
I think this show is okay (if not still possibly too scary) for 10 and up. The kids in the show are about 11 or 12 so depending on the types of shows and movies you already let them watch I would say this could be a fun show to watch together. Fair warning to parents – while this show is mostly about childhood it is also very much about parental love and loss of a child so you may need a hanky handy.
Other Thoughts To Read After You’ve Watched The Show:
- Dustin’s ““Why are you keeping the curiosity-door locked?” should win an Emmy for best line of dialogue ever.
- Poor Barb. She’s the real tragedy of the show. So, in the 80s if a kid ran away it was cool to just not go looking for her?
- How does no one in this small town know there is a large government facility built next door?
- That scene with Winona Ryder in the cabinet talking to her son through the Christmas lights. All the feels as the cool kids say.
- How cool was it when the kids were escaping on bikes from the caravan of white vans. We all thought El was going to make them fly like in ET but instead she flipped the van LIKE THE BADASS SHE IS. Did you catch my winking nod to this in the paragraph above?
- Observation from Kevin: The government had time and forethought to create an AV Club pamphlet but not enough strategy to capture the kids?
- Isn’t Mr. Clarke the best teacher ever?
- So the main message of this show is “don’t trust the government” right? Very timely.
- I appreciate that Steve isn’t the straight up jerk they could have made him out to be. Proving once and for all you can be a “Steve” in the pejorative and a “Stand Up Steve” all at the same time.
- The scene of Nancy, Steve, and Jonathan waiting and fighting the monster makes the love triangle almost worth it.
- I hope Nancy goes full Ripley in season 2.
- Eleven calling her Dr. Brenner “papa” is the creepiest thing in the entire series.
- I totally fell for the scene where Lucas shoots the monster with his slingshot and it pins him to the wall. I was so excited for him. He did it. He defeated the monster! When it was revealed that it was actually El who did it with her powers I was equal parts laughing at myself for falling for that trick and happy the show made me so invested that I was able to fall for it. Kind of sums up the entire series.