A Review on ‘Stranger Things’
*warning* there will be spoilers
‘Stranger Things’ is unarguably making noise in today’s television market. It’s a Netflix original that caters well to the sci-fi and thriller enthusiasts out there. The plot moves relatively quickly after a young boy goes missing in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. The show takes place in the 80's, and my goodness…the show does an excellent job at capturing the odd and kooky and charming zeitgeist that was the 1980's in the United States.
Let’s take a closer look at the show’s creators, The Duffer Brothers. Ross and Matt Duffer are twin brothers who are behind the writing and directing of the show. They were born in 1984, which is basically like the most 80's of the 80's years. Don’t believe me?
Here are a couple of books that were published in 1984: The Talisman, by Stephen King & Peter Straub. The Butter Battle Book, by Dr. Seuss.
Top grossing movies of the year? ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom,’ just to name a few.
How about the Billboard Year End Hot 100 Singles of 1984? These songs were in the TOP 5: “When Doves Cry” by Prince, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” by Tina Turner, and “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins.
you go, Tina. You freakin’ go.
So, it makes sense that the twin brothers from North Carolina would want to create a show that pays homage to the 80's. In fact, ‘Stranger Things’ is one big open love letter to the 1980's. Throughout and after watching the first season, several names came to mind: Koontz, King, Donner, Burton, Spielberg, and Lucas. These names stood out due to the show’s pacing, setting, character development, style in shooting, and story parallels.
‘The Goonies’ premiered in 1985. It’s just like ‘Stranger Things,’ in that both the movie and television show are mainly about a group of kids. I found resemblance in the friendship dynamics between ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘The Goonies.’ Both groups are held together by an unwavering urge for adventure and bravery in the face of adversity. Both groups travel to different places to square off with unimaginable discoveries. In the case of ‘The Goonies,’ the ultimate destination is One-Eyed Willy’s ship and treasures. In ‘Stranger Things,’ the unknown is a parallel world known as “the upside down” and the finds there are horrifying.
One of the main characters in this Netflix series is a girl by the name of “Eleven.” When she runs away from a secret testing facility, Eleven is taken in by Mike — one of the show’s main characters. Mike asks this strange girl her name and she points to a tattoo on her arm that simply exhibits the two streaks of the number 11. The girl sports a buzz cut that is incredibly reminiscent of Natalie Portman’s character in ‘V for Vendetta.’ And the young girl also has telekinesis. That’s kinda important to mention. My brain immediately made the link between her and Carrie White from Carrie (1974) by Stephen King.
When Eleven uses her abilities to help find Will, the boy stuck in “the upside down,” electronic appliances and their functions become erratic. Side note: When Eleven is in the alternate universe, her surroundings are black and the floor is reflective. If you haven’t seen ‘Under the Skin' (2014), I recommend you check it out. You’ll find something remarkably similar.
‘Under the Skin' or ‘Stranger Things?’
Eleven or Luke Skywalker?
Back to Eleven’s powers! The flickering of the lights, power outages, and mechanical failure reminded me of the way electronics behaved when the aliens were around in Spielberg’s 1977 hit, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’ There is a scene at the end of Close Encounters where communication is made with the aliens through a board of flashing lights. This, in a way, mirrors the way Joyce communicated with her lost son. Will would “speak” through the lights, the Christmas lights his mother frantically covered the inside of her home with.
In 1982, another Spielberg film premiered — now a classic, ‘E.T.’ Elliot befriends an extraterrestrial and brings it into his home, the same way Mike brought Eleven into his life. Both Elliot and Mike hid their new pals. Furthermore, both E.T. and Eleven have extraordinary capabilities.
While we’re on the subject of foreign characters and out of this world beings, there’s the monster from ‘Stranger Things.’ It’s a lanky and tall figure with no face and long fingers. The monster reminded me of what the plant from ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ would’ve looked like on extreme chemical radiation. And Little Shop is also out of — guess which era — you guessed it, the 80's. For consistency’s sake, ‘Little Shop of Horrors' premiered in 1986.
At one point in the season, two characters (Nancy and Jonathan) plotted to kill the monster. They set up a bear trap in a home and sprinkled the carpet with lighter fluid. The pair lured the monster in with blood and waited for the Christmas lights to flicker. When the fight commenced and the monster was set ablaze, the whole sequence was like the killing of “the thing” from ‘The Thing from Another World.’ It was a film that was in theaters in 1951…clearly not the 80's. However the film was remade in 1982, so there’s the link!
I’d also like to mention the presence of the Cold War in ‘Stranger Things.’ The symbolism can be spotted everywhere, if you’re a detail oriented cinephile. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the war wasn’t mentioned throughout the series. But it is there. From the snow like substance floating around in the upside down, to Will mentioning that the place he was stuck in was “wet and cold.” The top secret facility that Eleven came from is a direct nod to the Russian human experiments that were conducted throughout the Cold War. The similarities are chilling and haunting.
I’ll conclude with personal opinions. The score for the series features heavy synth. It’s awesome, that’s all. I think the casting for the show works out wonderfully. I can’t stress this enough: The kids’ performances are superb, often forcing me to rewind to re-watch a certain clip — the way someone said something. Police Chief Hopper is played by David Harbour. He’s the most dynamic character in the show and his portrayal is deserving of recognition and awards. He’s all over the place. One minute he plays tough guy. The next, he’s vulnerable and heartbreaking. Hopper is a well developed character. Now, the one issue I have with character development is in regards to Joyce — played by Winona Ryder. She’s perpetually in a state of distress, nearly completely throughout this first season. It was monotonous. After a while, her cries meant nothing. All her emotion was diluted because all her emotion was the same. I’m not nagging at her performance, because it’s good. But like Hopper’s character, I wish the writers would have used more flashbacks. This could’ve helped to paint a polar person, one with her son and one without him. It would’ve been a roller coaster part, something always fascinating to see in any sort of delivery.
To tie a bow on this all, I liked the show. I believe it’s relevant in today’s culture. It’s a constant reminder of the fact that kids sometimes have bigger hearts than adults, that people should come together when things get tough, and that there are worlds beyond ours — beyond our first person view and perspective of everything. Hats off to everyone involved in the production as the ten year old Ray Bradbury reading, 1950's sci-fi loving, and old school gamer in me is satisfied. I look forward to the next season.
Thanks for reading. If you liked this, I’d appreciate nothing more than a little green heart. A share would mean a great deal too! Your thoughts? Join the conversation. And always, happy reading :)